Pumpkin carvings bring ‘relief’ to Yarmouth residents

Just as the town’s celebrated sand sculptures are being cleared for winter, new artistic displays have popped up in Yarmouth.

Giant carved pumpkins, complete with cornstalks, bales of hay, and other autumnal adornments, are part of a test promotion this year by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Yarmouth. There’s a continuity to the decorations, too.

The carvings were created by Sean Fitzpatrick of Fitzysnowman Studios, the same artist behind the whimsical sand sculptures that have brought delight to Yarmouth’s visitors and residents for more than a decade.

Fitzpatrick, who specializes in three-dimensional street art and carves pumpkins when he’s not working with sand, says the installations this year might be the start of something bigger.

“This is just a test run, to see if people like it,” he explained.

Three ornately carved pumpkins are featured in seasonal displays — one at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center on Route 28 in West Yarmouth, another at Town Hall, and a third at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port.

“They’re all 100-pound pumpkins, and they’re sitting on top of three bales of hay,” he said. They get a little decoration, and they are enclosed inside a temporary loop of fencing to keep them safe.

The carvings are done in relief, Fitzpatrick explained, using thin layers to create the images, as opposed to the typical jack-o-lantern with triangular eyes cut clean through the pumpkin’s hull. And the subjects? Well, they’re in line with both Cape Cod and the Halloween season, of course.

One carving depicts a ghostly pirate ship flying the Jolly Roger with a pirate at the stern. Another shows a haunted church, flanked by menacing, leafless trees and bats flying overhead, ostensibly exiting the belfry at dusk. The third is a deathly stagecoach pulled by a troika of steeds with the Grim Reaper holding reins in one hand and wielding a scythe in the other.

Fitzpatrick uses Big Max pumpkins — a variety known as much for its uniform shape and brilliant orange skin as for its hefty size. “They’re beautiful, smooth-skinned pumpkins, and so they really do create a nice contrast,” he said.

“The very first thing I have to do is make the design,” he explained. “So, I’ll do some sketches, look at some reference photos, and I’ll draw something up.”

Not all sketches translate into a relief carving on a spherical pumpkin, so Fitzpatrick avoids “super-thin draw lines.” When he’s settled on the design, the artist uses wood-carving tools and Thai fruit-carving knives, which are superb for intricate work, he said.

Like sand sculptures, pumpkin carvings are ephemeral, so they should be enjoyed before they disappear — hopefully after Halloween if the weather isn’t too warm.

“We’d like to get as many people out there to see them as possible,” Fitzpatrick said. Pumpkins “are living organisms … and we’ve cut off their life support.”

When the displays are ultimately taken down, Fitzpatrick hopes the carvings will return in greater numbers next October, and that depends on whether people get out this year to enjoy the artwork. It’s a great ice-breaker and a surefire way to melt away the stress, he says.

“When you’re driving down the street, you do a double-take, and say, ‘What was that sculpture?’ And there’s this big pumpkin,” he said. “And now you’re smiling, and everything else that was bugging you — you don’t even remember it.”

If it changes one person’s day, “then my job is done,” Fitzpatrick said.

It’s “just something nice to put smiles on people’s faces,” he noted. “I mean we need that more than anything.”

TONS AND TONS AND TONS OF PUMPKINS

Those who want to test their own carving skills can find the appropriate raw materials at the West Yarmouth Congregational Church, which is midway through its 17th season of hosting the Pumpkin Patch fundraiser.

Rev. Charles Soule says the church receives two shipments during the fall, each containing about 30,000 pounds of pumpkins. Unloading and stacking them around the church’s lawn is performed by volunteers, who also work in shifts at the Pumpkin Patch, helping customers select the perfect gourds or pumpkins. Prices vary by size, with the smallest selling for $1 and the largest going for up to $35 or $40. Rev. Soule says most customers can take home a nice, big carving pumpkin for about $10.

The Pumpkin Patch is open until the end of October, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to dusk and on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to dusk. The church is also selling fresh and frozen apple pies, along with other baked goods, on Oct. 30. Find more at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce website.

This pumpkin carving initiative is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer, and freelance multimedia journalist.

Fall Festivals in Yarmouth

Forget the foliage in New Hampshire. Cape Cod has it all in the fall — especially in Yarmouth this weekend.

Where else can you find fireworks, a beachside bonfire, kayak and canoe racing, sand sculptures, a craft fair, painted pumpkins, hay wagon rides, apple cider donut holes, free live music, friendly farm animals, a pie-eating contest, kids activities, and every autumnal attraction under the mid-October sun?

The answer, of course, is nowhere but Yarmouth, where there are two festivals jammed into one spectacular weekend. Let’s start with the biggie.

2021 YARMOUTH SEASIDE FESTIVAL

The tradition began in 1978 when Jimmy Carter was president and cover bands played Bee Gees music at the Mill Hill Club. Yarmouth Seaside Festival founder Jan Butler says her goal was to create an event that would unite all the town’s villages and help build community spirit. It must have worked because the festival has been a tradition for more than 40 years — that is until 2020 when COVID-19 forced organizers to cancel the event.

Now it’s back, with all your favorite family-friendly activities except for the annual parade, which was omitted in deference to last month’s Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade. Here’s what to expect at the fairgrounds and around town.

Arts and Crafts Fair: It’s never too early to start your Christmas shopping — especially when you can choose from more than 125 juried crafters selling jewelry, ceramics, candles, soaps, paintings, and other handmade goods. The crafters will be at the festival fairgrounds (Joshua Sears Memorial Field, 1175 Route 28 in South Yarmouth) on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Find more info online.

Bonfire at Smuggler’s Beach: Bring a beach chair, blankets, your best friends, and a hearty appetite to Bass River Beach, (aka Smuggler’s Beach) on Saturday evening. In addition to the roaring bonfire, DJ Patrick Treacy of Sound Cape Mobile Entertainment will provide music for dancing in the sand. Meanwhile, Dennis Public Market’s “Meat Commander” will serve up hearty chili, Captain Parker’s famous chowder, hotdogs, hamburgers, and other foods. Find more information online.

Scenic 5K race along Bass River: The annual Seaside Festival Road Race is a flat and scenic course that winds 3.1 miles through streets with beautiful homes and views of Bass River. The starting line is at the festival fairgrounds, with parking behind Bridgewater State University. The event begins at 9 a.m., Sunday, with registration at 8 a.m. Find more information at the race’s web page.

Fireworks on the beach: The Nantucket “Sound” will be some very loud booming (plus some oohs and ahs) on Sunday night, with a dazzling fireworks display at Seagull Beach in West Yarmouth. Bring a beach chair and park at Seagull Beach lot. If that’s filled, don’t worry, the view is also great from Smuggler’s Beach, Parkers River Beach, and pretty much anywhere along the south-facing coastline. The pyrotechnics display is scheduled for 8 p.m.

Sand Sculpture Contest: Test your creativity and construction skills with the fine, white sand at Bass River Beach on Monday from 9 a.m. to noon. Contestants will need their own shovels, trowels, rakes, and pails. This year’s theme is sea creatures, and there will be awards for the best creations. Who knows … you might be the next Fitzysnowman!

YSF Canoe and Kayak Race: Paddle from Wilbur Park with the outgoing tide to Smuggler’s Beach, then enjoy food and prizes at the Sea Dog Brew Pub. Registration is on Monday from 9-10 a.m., with the shotgun start at 10. Paddlers are required to wear Coast Guard-approved floatation devices, and anyone under 18 needs a signed slip from parents or a guardian. Find more info and download an application form online.

More fun at the fair: Decorate pumpkins, enter a pie-eating contest, and watch police K-9 demos. Or catch mad science experiments, birds of prey shows, animal adventures, and Rock & Roll Racers at the fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday. Find a full schedule of events at the Yarmouth Seaside Festival website.

The Yarmouth Seaside Festival is sponsored in part by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund. Find a list of other sponsors on the festival website.

FALL FESTIVAL AT TAYLOR-BRAY FARM

Amid the autumnal activities, another popular fair is happening in historic Yarmouth Port, where the 377-year-old Taylor-Bray Farm hosts its annual Fall Festival. The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a rain date of Sunday. Enjoy hay wagon rides, old-fashioned games, an archaeological display, and a free giant pumpkin raffle for kids.

Animal lovers can visit the farm’s friendly livestock, including Nester and Sam, the miniature donkeys; a highland cow named Chloe; and three Nubian goats, Henry, George, and Dusty. If you get hungry, grab some hotdogs, apple cider, and cider donut holes.

You can also use the opportunity to buy your holiday pumpkin, grown right on the farm. Admission to the fair is free, but a donation of $5 for parking is greatly appreciated. Proceeds go toward maintaining the buildings and grounds, as well as feeding and caring for the nonprofit farm’s animals. As far as your own animals, please leave your dog at home on the day of the festival.

Learn more about the festival by visiting the Taylor-Bray Farm website.

The Taylor Bray Farm Festival is sponsored in part by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer, and freelance multimedia journalist.

‘Hapless Children’ and dark treasures at Edward Gorey House

Little children don’t enjoy many happily-ever-after moments in Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood. In fact, they almost always meet a dark and unexpected demise. Take young Ernest, who choked on a peach, or his book-mate Fanny, who was eerily “sucked dry by a leach”.

The unfortunate children are two of 26 characters in one of Edward Gorey’s most popular creations, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” – an alphabetized picture book of kids who fall down the stairs, get sucked into a mire, or tossed from a sleigh. More to the point, they’re examples of the dark humor you’ll find when touring the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port this season.

“Hapless Children: Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood” explores the artist’s not-so-gentle treatment of children, said Gorey House curator Gregory Hischak. And yes, the clever subtitle is an intentional play off the benevolent nature of public television’s “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Edward Gorey was a prolific artist, writer, book illustrator and even a celebrated stage designer, who created the sets and scenery for the long-running Broadway production of “Dracula” during the 1970s. And while many know him as the quirky animator of those shadowy figures who tangoed through the intro for the PBS “Mystery!” series, Gorey was also highly sought illustrator of children’s books during the 1950s and ’60s. Amid his rising popularity, he took to creating his own books, which he intended as a children’s literature, Hischak explained. Unfortunately, publishing houses didn’t see the work as suitable for youngsters, so Gorey frequently resorted to self-publishing. Many of his works, like “The Hapless Child” and “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” became favorites of adults and children – much in the way that Lemony Snicket stories and Tim Burton’s dark animations found cult status some 30 years after Gorey’s work.

“The Hapless Children” exhibit features work from the 1950s through the ’90s, including some original drawings on loan from the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust in New York, Hischak said. And while the collection may be fascinating, the macabre content begs the question: Is it suitable for families with kids?

The answer is an unequivocal yes, says Hischak. Kids are resilient, he said. By age 7, most are ready for Edward Gorey’s books.

The Edward Gorey House is a 200-year-old sea captain’s home on Strawberry Lane, which was purchased by Gorey in 1979 after the artist spent multiple summers with his aunt in Barnstable while working in New York. Gorey moved to Yarmouth Port about six years later and lived in the home for 15 years, until his death in 2000. In his later years, Gorey was fond of visiting auctions, yard sales and estate sales around the Cape, and he collected everything from books and kitschy artwork to shabby-chic furniture, gaudy jewelry, antique glassware, and old farm implements.

If you want to see the exhibit and tour Gorey’s home, reservations are highly recommended as the Gorey House is limiting attendance to a dozen people at a time, due to safety concerns amid the pandemic. Face masks are mandatory, Hischak said, as is safe, social distancing among patrons exploring the 14-room house. After Memorial Day, the museum will likely bring back docents to answer questions and conduct formal tours through the home, he said.

A visit to the Gorey House, including a stop to pore over books and intriguing items at the museum store, should take an hour to 90 minutes, so you might look for a second destination to make a day of it. The area near Strawberry Lane and Route 6A is peppered with historic sites, including the nearby Winslow Crocker House, the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, and the Yarmouth New Church, now a cultural center and performance venue.

There are also hiking trails and plenty of places for lunch. Heading west on Route 6A, you’ll find the Old Yarmouth Inn, Jack’s Outback and the Optimist Café. A few miles east is Royal II Restaurant and Grill, which is highly recommended by Hischak.

Hapless Children runs at the Edward Gorey House through Dec. 31. Email the museum at edwardgoreyhouse@verizon.net or call 508-362-3909. Find more information online at edwardgoreyhouse.org.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.