If your idea of carving pumpkins involves the typical triangle eyes and a crude gap-toothed smile, prepare to have your mind expanded. David LaRochelle, a White Bear Lake author and illustrator of children's books, has turned jack-o'-lanterns into an art form.
LaRochelle has been carving pumpkins for more than 20 years, creating intricate designs with a children's-book whimsy. These aren't just scary faces hacked into a gourd; LaRochelle pumpkins set a scene or even tell a story: a shark is about to devour a fisherman, a spider weaves an elaborate web, a school bus of ghouls drives along on wheels of winter squash.[jump]
"I've always been fascinated by pumpkins," says LaRochelle, who used to grow and sell them as a kid in New Brighton. He began creating fancy pumpkins years ago when he was still teaching elementary school and ran across a pumpkin-carving kit that also advertised a carving contest. He decided to enter and won an honorable mention. Since then, he says, he's carved anywhere from five to 15 every year. "So I'm sure I've done well over a hundred pumpkins." His works often take about three hours, he says. "The longest I've ever spent on a pumpkin was eight hours."
While his carvings have been mostly for the neighbors' benefit, he occasionally gets paid for professional pumpkin-carving gigs, and he and/or his gourds have appeared on ABC's Good Morning America show several times.
LaRochelle's day job, though, is creating children's books. "I've probably written or illustrated over 25 books by now," he says. Last spring, Reese Witherspoon read one of his books, The Best Pet of All, on the White House lawn during the annual Easter Egg Roll.
LaRochelle's books can be found in local independent and chain bookstores, but his pumpkins, like Buddhist monk sand mandalas, are ephemeral things. "Pumpkins carved all the way through won't last more than a day or two" in pristine condition, he says, though the ones with engraved skins can last a couple of weeks.
Luckily, LaRochelle has preserved many of them in photos. To see more examples of LaRochelle's pumpkin art, take a look through this City Pages slideshow of his work. Many more can be viewed on his website, where you'll also find information about his children's books.