Michael Natiello of Garrison has served as the creative director of Westchester’s famous Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze for the past nine years. When the event began in 2005, it was held over eight evenings in October. This year, The Blaze spans 25 nights and features two dozen themed installation areas boasting more than 5,000 hand-carved jack-o'-lanterns.
We sat down with Natiello to discuss what it takes to bring this epic Halloween event together.
Q: What does it mean to be the creative director of The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze?
MN: It's anywhere from creating patterns for the carvings, to designing the installations and overseeing the layout and the set-up.
In general terms, it’s about 20 people working on the team. It breaks down to carvers, carpenters, designers, and painters. We have a group that kind of brainstorms. We come up with new things and share, and I take the ideas and create the designs.
It’s really a yearlong process, from brainstorming, to designing, to carving, to implementing. During the event is when we get a lot of new ideas. For example, 'We should do this next year, we should do that next year, we should change that.’ Then we take it down, we rest a little bit, and then we go all the way back to the process.
Q: What new designs can we expect to see at The Blaze this year?
MN: Within the Jurassic Park, we incorporate a pterodactyl and also an over-20-feet-tall brontosaurus. That’s gonna be noticeably new and different, and pretty awesome. We are also creating a sea serpent clocking in at about 40 feet long. Then we have a ‘Venus pumpkin trap,’ which is sort of a play on a Venus flytrap.
Q: What's your favorite design at this year's Blaze?
MN: I think the sea serpent is by far the most awesome thing we’ve done yet.
Q: How do you come up with the jack-o’-lantern designs? Where does your inspiration come from?
MN: Well, a lot of the inspiration comes from the history of the site. We have some areas that make reference to the history of the Van Cortlandt family [and] some of the decorative art they collected that was popular in the 1700-1800s. And the site sort of inspires me in the actual landscape. And the idea of using Chinese or Asian-inspired designs comes from the fact that the Van Cortlandts collected early Chinese exports. And then also it’s just the inspiration from Halloween, such as the spider, the skeleton, and the jack-o’-lantern.
Q: What’s your favorite design you've ever carved?
MN: The Celtic knots that we’re sort of known for. They’re challenging but they’re satisfying when they’re done.
Q: Did you carve a lot of jack-o'-lanterns as a kid?
MN: No, just a couple here and there growing up. I went to school for illustration and painting. Thereafter I started to embrace it as something fun to do for Halloween.
Q: What’s different about carving pumpkins today vs. when you were a kid?
MN: When I was a kid, it was kitchenized—you used whatever you had laying around. Now kids have all these kits and gadgets and gizmos that are catered toward pumpkin-carving. And there’s a lot more information online. So I think it is more commonplace than it used to be.
Q: What’s the best part about carving pumpkins? The worst?
MN: [The best is] how it affects others. You know, it’s really art—it’s kind of like public art in a sense. It’s something that seems to transcend all different people.
I guess it’s hard to find the worst part out of the actual process. Other than it tends to get people messy. But I don’t mind the mess. I like the smell of it.
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