Few people have considered the question “What if the universe started with a pumpkin?”, but Jesse Draper is one of them.
Draper is the art director for Bigsley Event House, an event production company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the past few years Bigsley has created an event called Pumpkin Nights, which appears, like bags of bite-size Hershey’s at a Walgreens, every year around Halloween. Draper says the goal is to make Pumpkin Nights feel like a “pop-up Disneyland” for Halloween.
Hence his driving question as the art director for this squash-heavy event: What has never been done with a pumpkin before?
“We try and think, how could you remix something to be a pumpkin?” Draper tells SF Weekly. “How could we take this popular thing or animal or art and make it a pumpkin?” It turns out a great many things can be made pumpkin-like or at least pumpkin adjacent. Pumpkin Nights features a number of areas (which, in the spirit of themeparkery, they dub “lands”) like the Pumpkin Reef, the Forbidden Pumpkin City, and a new one this year, the Enchanted Pumpkin Forest.
Creating a Pumpkin Reef, replete with pumpkin jellyfish and pumpkin coral, and a 40-foot pumpkin dragon, among other things, takes a lot of pumpkins. Since Pumpkin Nights runs from Oct. 10 through Nov. 3 in Santa Rosa, making pumpkin and jack-o-lantern sculptures using real squash won’t work — the fruit rot over about three days. So most of the 3,000 pumpkins at Pumpkin Nights are made out of styrofoam. With a Pumpkin Nights in five different cities, that’s around 15,000 pumpkins to create, send out, and set up.
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“The secret is that we start in February,” Draper says. “We have a team of about 15 to 20 pumpkin artists throughout the year.”
Draper himself got tabbed as a pumpkin artist when someone from Bigsley noticed a 13-foot-tall foam sculpture he’d done — his first ever — of the Delicate Arch in Utah. They asked if he could also make a giant (9 feet tall) pumpkin, and now he oversees the creation and perfection of a tiny pumpkin world every fall.
“One of the things that’s so nice about a pumpkin is that it’s the perfect template to make other things with,” he says.
In addition to the Museum of Ice Cream-esque pumpkin landscape — employees are on hand at different spots to help take your picture — Pumpkin Nights has two rides. One is a teacup ride where the teacups are — you may want to sit down for this — pumpkins, and the other is a pirate-ship style ride that swings back and forth. There will also be bounce houses and a nightly screening of Nightmare Before Christmas. Vendors will be on the premises selling food and beverages.
The pumpkin gnomes, pumpkin pirates, and other pumpkin folk are not intended to scare anyone, Draper says.
“We don’t want to be a spooky event,” he says. “It’s not a haunted house, it’s not a corn maze. It’s a love letter to the heart of Halloween.”
Tickets range from $16 for children to $20 for adults, but be aware they must be purchased online (i.e. they are not sold at the door).
5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Oct. 10-Nov. 3, Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, $16-$20, pumpkinnights.com
Meet a Pumpkin Mascot
Half Moon Bay prides itself on its local agriculture production, especially of pumpkins. The annual pumpkin festival, therefore, is a Big Deal. If celebrating every aspect of the humble pumpkin in every way sounds like your idea of a good time, this could be the celebration for you. In addition to every-festival mainstays like food, crafts, and vendors, this event has a parade, giant pumpkins (and photo-ops with said behemoths!), artisan pumpkin carving, and a special pumpkin weighing. It even has a mascot, Gourdy, a cheerful jack-o-lantern.
49th Annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival
9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Oct. 19-20, Main Street, Half Moon Bay, free, pumpkinfest.miramarevents.com.
So Many Pumpkins
For those looking to celebrate pumpkins closer to the 415, Clancy’s Pumpkin Patch near San Francisco Zoo has you covered. Operating since 1979, Clancy’s has what you’d expect from a pumpkin patch (lots of pumpkins) but also boasts a greater variety of pumpkins than other pumpkin patches. If the standard rotund orange squash friend isn’t cutting it for you, this could be the place to go.
Clancy’s Pumpkin Patch
9 a.m.-9 p.m., Oct. 1-31, 2101 Sloat Blvd., free.