Ray Villafane’s playful, carved pumpkins are synonymous with Halloween in Carefree. But when COVID-19 hit, he was forced to make a change when the town canceled its events.
“Strange Encounters: A Halloween Scavenger Hunt” was installed throughout Downtown Mesa and in its storefronts – all visible from the sidewalk to ensure proper social distancing. Maps are available online and in Downtown Mesa until the show ends on Nov. 8.
Villafane explained each scene tells its own anecdotal story. This year, “Mr. Hallows” is making his debut. A 9-foot-tall scarecrow, Mr. Hallows is made from natural materials – a pumpkin for a head and limbs made from branches Villafane found on a hike. He has a heart made of hag stone and three felted mice living inside of him.
“I’m probably most proud of that scarecrow and I’m excited for his final debut,” he said.
Villafane said he uses hag stones as the hearts for his scarecrows because they have naturally occurring holes through the middle and they signify magic and good luck.
“My life is constantly in the pursuit of finding what makes me tick what I’m really passionate about,” he said. “Over the years I’ve refined it to the point where I really find myself settling with making things with natural materials for the public to enjoy.”
Villafane was a K-12 art teacher when he carved a pumpkin for his students, who loved it. He soon traded his chalkboard for sculpting tools.
He began commercial sculpting on the side and eventually, Villafane became a full-time commercial sculptor, working for companies such as Marvel, Warner Bros., DC Comics and McFarlane Toys.
As he became more skilled in his craft, he began receiving more attention for his work, including that of the Food Network, eventually contributing to the launch of a pumpkin carving series.
Villafane found his niche in storytelling using pumpkin carving and sculpting as his medium.
“I just created this sort of enchanted magical world utilizing natural materials,” he said. “I just love creating magic, making stuff from nothing. I love working with natural materials and making enchanted storylines, and while it is based in a sort of Halloween vibe, it certainly transcends that.”
Villafane’s work has been displayed around the world. To name a few, he has carved at the White House, Heidi Klum’s annual Halloween party and Ocean Park Hong Kong. He holds two Guinness Book World Records, including largest pumpkin sculpture and has been called the “Michelangelo of pumpkin carving” by Martha Stewart.
“It is the most magical Halloween on the planet,” Villafane said.