Sculptor Bill Janelle puts an interesting face on pumpkin contest

Bill Janelle of West Bridgton carves one of eight faces he will use in a New Hampshire pumpkin-carving contest. (Rivet Photos)

Bill Janelle of West Bridgton carves one of eight faces he will use in a New Hampshire pumpkin-carving contest. (Rivet Photos)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

What does professional sculptor William Janelle do for fun?

In the winter, he will push aside a fresh block of butternut that will be transformed into a “wood spirit” face in favor of a cube of ice that will eventually be chiseled into a glassy figurine for curious spectators to marvel at an outdoor exhibition in New Hampshire.

This fall, in the spirit of Halloween, Bill is trying his hand at pumpkin carving. While jack-o-lanterns will light up porches and stairways, greeting visitors either with eerily or comical faces, Bill will take pumpkin carving to a whole new level.

The self-taught artist has entered the New England Jackson (N.H.) Invitational Pumpkin Carving Competition set to take place next Friday, Oct. 23, and run through Sunday, Oct. 25. More than 10 teams — including Team Janelle, which includes Bill’s wife Loraine and the family 12-year-old dog, Lucy, who serves as manager — are expected to compete. The teams will carve, sculpt and whittle on eight to 10 pumpkins, starting at noon on Friday and continue through Saturday evening until 7 p.m. Teams will then display their works in Jackson Village Park at the official “Pumpkin Lighting” at 7 p.m. Visitors will choose the “People’s Choice” award, which includes a $100 dining certificate to a Jackson area dining member’s establishment. The overall champ receives a Jackson vacation package, valued over $500. The competition is part of a month-long “All Things Pumpkin” Festival.

TEAM JANELLE — Bill with his wife, Loraine, at their West Bridgton studio.

TEAM JANELLE — Bill with his wife, Loraine, at their West Bridgton studio. Missing is the team's manager, Lucy, the family dog.

“I was interested in playing with something new. About two to three weeks ago, I started to carve my first pumpkin. I was happy enough with it that I entered the competition,” said the West Bridgton sculptor, who has been carving for over 35 years. “You have to use hand tools, no grinders. You have to carve at least eight pumpkins, somewhat of a daunting task. It should be an interesting event.”

Bill plans to construct a “totem pole” of pumpkins with “low man on the totem pole” with a scrounged face and “top dog” looking down.

“I have always been fascinated doing human faces. I enjoy trying to invoke some sort of emotion, whether it is anger and disgust or happiness. With these pumpkins being round — head-shaped — they lend themselves to it,” Bill said. “I was thinking about doing an entire body and assemble the pieces and then have the head dismembered, Halloween-style. But, I really didn’t want to go that route the first time out. I wanted to be somewhat comical, which pumpkins lend itself to comedy. I wanted to do mostly heads, so the totem pole gave me that chance. I didn’t want a bunch of scattered ‘heads’ that didn’t go together.”

Quit pushin JanelleHaving a long-standing fascination with “classical” faces, Bill says art should invoke emotion. To Bill, the pinnacle is the female face.

“You can make a gnarly, gruff old man pretty easy. But to have a beautiful face, that is always the pinnacle,” he said. “It is something I am always reaching for. I am still learning. I hope to die still learning.”

Bill’s love of sculpture came from his grandfather, who enjoyed whittling.

“It was all with knives, and he made his own chisels,” Bill said. “He would make folk arty stuff. I started with that when I was 14. I took some art classes in high school, but gave it up for building construction because I figured I needed a skill to make a living.”

Bill read a lot, especially about Michelangelo.

“Art isn’t simply something pretty, art should mean something,” he said. “To me, the ultimate goal is create something of substance in a piece, trying to make it look like it has importance to whoever sees it.”

Making a bold impression is Bill’s goal at the pumpkin carving contest. He has also found this change in medium somewhat “liberating.”

WOOD SPIRIT carvings are one of Bill's signature pieces of work.

WOOD SPIRIT carvings are one of Bill's signature pieces of work.

“I am not going into this with the preconceived notion that it has to be serious. I’ve never done a goofy face like those two over there on a piece of wood. I never thought to, but I might now,” he said. “I don’t think I would have gone in that direction with a piece of wood. Pumpkin is allowing me a little more freedom. The lack of permanence is liberating. It allows me to not worry as much of this piece being in a gallery. It’s just what I want to do. It’s fleeting and fast compared to wood or stone. Unlike wood, you can take off too much pumpkin in a hurry.”

Bill is no real fan of power tools, which makes this contest right up his creative alley.

“I like chisels,” he said. “For these carvings, I am using a number of tools that are actually used for wax and clay. I do use a couple of woodcarving tools, ones I am not really attached to. The problem with wood chisels is that they go a little too fast. Oops in a heart beat. What I really like is that there aren’t a whole lot of tools involved.”

Just as he researches the viability of certain woods in relation to sculpting, Bill also studied ways to preserve pumpkins once they are carved.

“Vaseline is applied to the face to prevent moisture from whisking out,” Bill said. “The cleaner with bleach keeps the little microbes in check for a little bit of time. Of course, this wonderful heat we had proved a little challenging. When I heard it was going to be a bit cool at night, I left a window open.”

Bill has dabbled with his face ideas in between his serious sculpting in his West Bridgton studio.

“I hope to do this every year,” he said. “It’s a learning tool. It will be interesting to see how pumpkin carving influences my sculpting.”

Win or lose at the Pumpkin Festival, Bill Janelle is simply enjoying the experience and looking forward to talking with other artists.


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