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Halloween Art

HERE COME THE PUMPKINS

by Charlie Finch
 
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High above the Croton Reservoir, deep in the woods, I already have both fireplaces blazing and the thermostat turned down to keep the heating oil man and his expensive winter wares away from my door for, hopefully, a few more weeks.

I am 10 minutes away from the Bethlehem of Halloween, Sleepy Hollow, and, while the bad economy seems to have reduced the usual elaborate frieze of mechanical goblins, cackling witch statues and swaths of ghostly gauze in my neighbors' yards, the list of public events for the biggest day of our communal year, October 31, continues to expand. There is the Jack O' Lantern Blaze in the old 1770s vintage Van Cortland Manor in Croton, the tours of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, in which the locals toss lucky pennies on the graves of Washington Irving and his family and the most glamorous witch crypt is that of the socialite Brooke Astor, and the Halloween Parade, starting at dusk next Saturday at Patriots' Park in Tarrytown, with stops at the Headless Horsemen Cafe and other local tavernas.

As to art, last year the artist Karen Finley, who resides near the railroad tracks in Tarrytown in Edward Hopper's old studio space, put on a flaming red cape and brought me a giant pumpkin, so I am trying to conjure up a return visit. The pumpkin is simultaneously the most comforting and the most threatening of gourds, and its image in art reflects such.

Jess' Field of Pumpkins Grown for Seed, part of his 1965 "Translations" series at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, exhibits this tension with a mix of purple pumpkinly allure under threatening autumn skies. Winslow Homer's The Pumpkin Patch, a precursor to Linus van Pelt's yearly vigil, is a garden of earthy delights tempting its small boy into a fall rapture which stops time, something that autumn, up here, in my own autumnal years, emphatically fails to do.

This threat is nicely summarized in Jamie Wyeth’s self-portrait Pumpkinhead, a merging of Ichabod Crane's naivete with the looming finality of his murderer, and in the great print genius Leonard Baskin's 85th birthday card to the poet Robert Francis, The Pumpkin Man. Yes, eventually we all turn into pumpkins, after all.

Time to relax with a slice of pie (pumpkin, of course) and Wayne Thiebaud's 1962 Pieces of Pumpkin, a rich slice indeed, as it went for auction at Christie's in 1997 for $2,169,000. Cheaper, better and even more delightful: Yayoi Kusama's porcelain edition Five Pumpkins, in a saggy, spotted assortment of autumn colors.

I have saved the best for last: my cousin, the feminist poet Annie Finch, was born on Oct. 31, 1956, and she is a certified, practicing, undulating witch, at her American Witch blog, should you wish to have her cast a spell. And remember the best pumpkin treat is the seeds, roasted to a crisp in olive oil and sea salt. Happy Halloween!


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).