The Pumpkin King of Halloween

04 Oct 2023

If ever there was a celebrity jack-o-lantern artist, Barry Brown’s the guy, and he’s sharing his spooky season secrets

By Chloe-Anne Swink

When you hear the words “Pumpkin King,” your mind likely conjures the image of a spindly claymation skeleton wearing a pinstriped tux and a mischievous smile. Colorado has its own pumpkin king, however, and he’s just as whimsical, albeit with a more earthly charm.

Barry Brown is a renowned artist who creates, what he calls, “Masterpieces in Pumpkin.” You’ve likely encountered Brown’s work while meandering the streets of Denver—his carvings have ushered the Halloween spirit into many of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Denver Zoo, the Denver Botanic Gardens, Union Station and the Denver Art Museum. 

So, how did he carve out a niche as a master of such a unique medium? 

Brown studied not in the visual arts, but in the performing arts. While working as a performer in his young adult years, he stumbled across a competition advertised on the packaging of a pumpkin carving kit. Submit photos of your Jack-o-lantern. The national winner would receive a $1,000 prize. $1,000 was quite tempting to an underpaid actor.

The second year Brown entered the contest, he won the illustrious grand prize. As serendipity would have it, he later met “Mr. and Mrs. Carving Kit” (as he fondly refers to the husband-and-wife duo behind the kit and competition) at a show he performed in Denver. 

Brown went on to work for the couple who, throughout his time with them, expanded the first-ever pumpkin carving kit from a three-person operation in their Cherry Creek home into a thriving business—what later become the Pumpkin Masters, the brand behind just about every carving kit out there from Walmart to Michaels. And Brown was their pumpkin carving star. 

“They were flying me all over the country to carve pumpkins for TV shows and magazines and newspapers, and I even carved the pumpkins in the movie Hocus Pocus,” said Brown. 

When asked what makes him such a stellar pumpkin artist, he answered, “It’s not that I’m a trained or studied artist, but I just like to play with stuff.” Pumpkin carving isn’t the only art form Brown excels in, “When I was a kid, I played with a lot of paper—that’s another thing that I do. I make things out of paper. If you’ve heard of the Denver Paper Fashion Show, I won that four consecutive years.” 

Today, Brown’s official title is “Master Pumpkin Carver” at Silver Dollar City amusement park in Missouri. The first year that Brown took up the task of decorating the park for the Halloween season, he carved 500 pumpkins in the span of six months. 

Explore Brown’s work, including his book “The Pumpkin Kid,” at barrybrowncreative.com. 


Carving Magic: Crafting Your Pumpkin Showpiece

Brown credits having “the best tools for the job” as integral to his ability to create his gourd creations. “I would recommend using a good carving kit—which means [using] little saws. You put a pattern on, you transfer it and use the little saws [to carve the design].” He also has a few tips to carve a masterpiece that lasts:

1. Choose a pumpkin the size of a basketball. They’re easier to work with.

2. Carve in your lap for more control. Saw straight up and down. Your saw should be perpendicular to the pumpkin, forming a right angle. Rotate the pumpkin as you work about its face. 

3. Cut a four-inch hole in the bottom of the pumpkin to open it versus sawing off the top. An intact stem helps your pumpkin keep longer.

4. Wrap jack-o-lanterns in plastic wrap and store them somewhere cool like a refrigerator when they’re not on display. This ensures they stay fresh for as long as possible. 

5. In Brown’s own words, “Don’t try too hard!” Be gentle. The tools are meant for the task and don’t need to be forced. 

Brown’s favorite part about pumpkin carving? The way the light seeps through the cracks. “When the light shines out it changes things.” To make the most of that sparkling light he recommends using a corded LED lightbulb to illuminate your own masterpiece in pumpkin. 

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