Be careful if you see Steve Dahlke studyingyour face-you could turn up on his next giant carved pumpkin at a local fest. Dahlke, a master pumpkin carver from Rosemont, spends his weekends in September and October carving giant pumpkins-and we mean giant-many top 1,000 pounds. In the next couple of weeks, you can watch Dahlke carve pumpkins at Rosemont’s Scream in the Park (where he’ll carve pumpkins Saturdays from 7-10 p.m.) or at Brookfield Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo. Recently, Dahlke took a few minutes from his job as a laborer with the city of Rosemont to talk about his pumpkin-carving hobby.
Why do you go with such big pumpkins? It’s easier to put the design on them. Each year I have five or 10 patterns in my head.
How do you come up with the designs? I just make them up. I look at people, and if someone has wrinkles in their face, I say, I can do that.
How did you learn how to do this? Are you a sculptor? I went to school for advertising art, which got nowhere. …Then I went into animation and that got nowhere. Now I work for the city of Rosemont public works. This is a hobby.
How do you preserve them? If the grower doesn’t want the seeds, I won’t open the pumpkin. …I spray paint them and the spray paint holds it in a little bit. But it does start to turn, like the one at the haunted house. I went over there Wednesday after work with my spray paint and I touched it up and gave it a little makeover. You also can use 50/50 bleach and water and spray it everyday (to preserve it). If you open it up and air gets inside the cavity, it starts to rot, but these pumpkins are over 8 inches thick.
Where do you get your pumpkins from? I have a pumpkin grower in Wisconsin. …I have one at the haunted house we delivered yesterday. Tonight I’ll do some smaller ones, then Saturday I’ll carve the big one. Tomorrow morning my wife will carve for my kid thing.
She carves the little ones, with her niece. I have three or four people who carve for me. For instance last weekend, I was in New York and my wife and her niece carved down south. All these people want me to carve and I can’t be in all these spots. …. There’s a waiting list for people who want me to carve.
(My wife) does the smaller pumpkins and we use patterns on them. We make the pattern a sticker and we stick it to the pumpkin and cut right through the pumpkin. If we do mass quantities, we have a machine that guts out the pumpkin.
Do you have any tips for our readers on carving pumpkins? …Instead of cutting the top out, we cut the bottom out because the top looks nice. Just make a little hole on the top if you use a candle for the little chimney. I started this a long time ago and now that’s what Martha Stewart does.