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Carving Pumpkins at the White House

What a blast! What a memorable experience!

I had the honor of carving pumpkins at the White House for the first family’s Halloween trick or treat event.

Nita at the White House

Nita at the White House

The White House hosted a Halloween party with trick or treating for military families. The trick-or-treating was done on the front portico and drive way of the White House. Our team created a carved pumpkin display for the event.

How did I get invited? The event organizer, James Parker of Veggy Art invited me to join his team. James Parker is a multiple winner of several Food Network Carving competitions and most recently served as one of the judges on Food Network’s Outrageous Pumpkins 2 that aired during October.

Nita with Pumpkin Vines

Nita with pumpkin vines from Crumland Farms

On our team, there were several carvers who have appeared on various competitions on the Food Network. You might remember Pam Leno and Shawn Feeney who appeared on the recent episodes of Halloween Wars that just aired during October. Shawn was on the Bling Bats team who won the first prize of $50,000.

Three other carvers on the team have appeared on other Food Network show featuring pumpkin carving and fruit carving. They are Dean Murray, Ray Duey and William Bednar. Also carving and helping design and implement for the carving for the White House were carvers Pam Pfropper, George Wong, Edmund Palmeri, Ernesto Alvarez and Glen Pruden.

Pumpkin face and vulture carved by Dean Murray

Pumpkin face and vulture carved by Dean Murray

We carvers donated our time while pumpkin farmers Kathleen and Dale Whitenight donated all of the pumpkins.

To get ready for the event there was plenty to do. There was planning. There was shopping. We needed to gather up supplies and material.

Once we came up with a plan, we needed fresh pumpkin vines. William and I made a last minute drive to Crumland Farms in Maryland where the Crum family generously allowed us to go into their fields and take all the pumpkin vines that we could fit into the back of James’ SUV. I’m not much of a gardener but found it was fun to be digging around in the mud pulling up 40 foot long pumpkin vines.

White house pumpkinsThen there were structures to be designed and built for our haunted trees, a fence to be created for the graveyard scene and there was plenty of carving to be done.

Although we had absolutely beautiful weather up until the day before, on the day of the White House event, it turned very cold and rained hard all day.

Being the fair weather San Diegan that I am, I didn’t want to get soaked in the rain. So, in the morning, I stopped to buy rain ponchos for our team. It was great to have those ponchos but I ended up arriving a few minutes late and missed out on the tour of the White House kitchen.

Gourd vulture at the White House

Here is a closer look at Dean Murray’s gourd vulture.

Close-up pumpkin face

Close-up of Dean’s pumpkin face looking up at the vulture.

The following is a short video showing how I transformed cockatiels carved from diakon into ravens for our Halloween display.

Here we are arriving at the gate of the White House.


Nita Gill carved pumpkins at the whtiehouse

However, I did get there in time for our group to get an impromptu private tour of the first floor of the White House that includes the ballroom, red room and green room. Stately and historic portraits of past presidents lined all the walls. Because Disney was setting up decorations for that evening’s Halloween party, there were added portraits of Disney characters like the evil witch from Snow White and Cruella D’ Evil. It was a funny contrast to the formal portraits of the Presidents. I’d love to be able to share photos of the interior of the White House with you but photo taking was not allowed.

After the tour we got busy – in the cold rain- assembling our graveyard scene and haunted trees as the ground beneath our feet turned to mud.

As a team, we constructed two haunted trees covered with wood grain carved pumpkin for bark. Bark carving was one of my jobs and I added a few wood grain faces to the trees. The arms and roots were made up of braided pumpkin vines. One tree had a fabulous witch face carved by Pam Leno with a huge nose and wart covered chin. The other tree had an expressive face carved by Dean Murray. It looked up at a large squash and pumpkin vulture also created by Dean.

More of the Completed Halloween Display at the White House

Pumpkin witch an the White House

Pam Leno carved the face and directed the construction of this pumpkin tree witch.

Pumpkin witch face by Pam Leno at the White House

Here’s a closer look at Pam Leno”s witch face.

The Graveyard scene had skeletons rising up from under the earth. The bones were carved by Shawn Feeney with the assistance of George Wong. The headstones were carved from white pumpkins by Ray Duey. One of tombstones was inscribed with “I told you I was sick”. In the graveyard scene there were black ravens that I created that were picking at the skeleton bones.

White House graveyard pumpkins

Graveyard scene of carved pumpkins at the White House trick-or-treat event

gravestone of white pumpkin at the White House

This gravestone said, “I told you I was sick”.

foggy graveyard scene

AT one point a delivery truck sat next to the graveyard scene with its motor idling. The exhaust “fog” added to the creepiness.

In addition to our display, we had originally intended to do our pumpkin carving at the outdoors at the White House so that the trick-or-treaters could see us carving in action. But, because of the heavy rain, the White House staff set up a tent in a protected area adjoining the White House where we could carve protected from the elements. From there, we could enter a section of the White House to warm up from time to time.

Here are several carved pumpkin faces at the White House carved by a variety of artists.

Here is a closer look at the skull and claw carved by James Parker that was hung on the graveyard fence.

When it was time for the trick-or-treaters to arrive we brought all of our additional pumpkin carvings out to put on display. It was too wet and too cold to do our live carving.

White House Pumpkin Carving

The military families enjoyed our pumpkin display.

At 4:00 pm when the treat or treaters were due to arrive, it began to snow!! In October! It broke a 50 year record.

At first the trick or treaters were sparse. Then larger numbers began to arrive. Although the number of trick-or-treaters to show up was smaller than expected due to the cold wet weather, it was still fun to see the on looking crowd get excited about our carved pumpkin display. I heard many enthusiastic comments like, “those aren’t really carved are they?”, “Wow, look at that!”, and “WHOOAA”. It seemed that everyone had their cameras and phones out and were snapping away. It was a kick to see and hear the excitement over our creepy pumpkin carving display.

Trick or Treaters at the White House Halloween Event

Did I get to meet the president and first lady? No. But, the organizer of our team, James Parker and his wife Siu got to meet and have their photos taken with the President and Michelle Obama. And so did the Farmers Dale and Kathleen Whitenight and their daughter Patty who donated the pumpkins. Who knows, maybe I’ll get another chance next year.

In spite of the cold wet weather, it was really fun to be at the White House and to work with some top notch carvers. When it was all over, and we were finally warm and dry, I was left with a fun memory to last a lifetime.

If you would like to carve amazing 3D pumpkins, you can with Ray Villafane’s 3D pumpkin carving DVD tutorials.

Happy carvers at the White House

We were wet but happy

Learn to carve like a pro

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8 Responses to Carving Pumpkins at the White House

  1. Latha Loganath November 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    Hi Great food carvers of the world,
    Hearty congrats for being a part of the prestigious food carving at the whote house…AN HONOUR INDEED IT IS!!!!!! The witches, the skeletons etc were just amazing! Creativity to its very limits!
    I am also a veg & fruit carver from India & do honorary work teaching the art to the homeless & needy so that they can display their talent & stand on their own feet.
    Wishing u all success in every step that u take.
    Best wishes

    • Nita November 5, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      Thanks on behalf of our team for your congratulations and good wishes. That is generous of you to teach to the homeless an needy. Keep up the good work!

  2. pooja bhati November 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    my god neeta
    u are an amazing person
    it is unbeleivable
    many many best wishes
    pooja bhati

    • Nita November 6, 2011 at 7:08 am #

      Thank you from the whole team.

  3. NAhed December 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that with us. many many best wishes. I am learning from you allot of nice new carving ideas.

  4. Marvin December 5, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    Nita, one of your white house videos is buggy. It says that this video is private. Thought you woud like to know.
    And here is a video that Shawn Feeney made showing the graveyard scene at the White House.
    What an honor it must have been to carve at the white house!!!

    • Nita Gill December 5, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

      Thanks for letting me know, Marvin.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving | Fruit & Vegetable Carving Blog - December 3, 2011

    […] Feeney was one of the pumpkin carvers on the team where we carved pumpkins for the White House Halloween event.  You can see more of Shawn’s art at his website www. […]

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