He is the Picasso of pumpkins.
For the last seven years, Joseph Yakovetic has chiseled intricate pieces of character art -- Yoda, Goofy, Iron Man, Jack Skellington, Alice in Wonderland -- out of squash in front of audiences at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree.
Wielding clay loop tools and a linoleum cutter, Yakovetic tackles simple likenesses, such as Mickey Mouse, whom he can carve in 15 to 20 minutes, and complex characters, like Davy Jones from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” whose tentacled beard takes several hours.
“Pumpkin is just a different medium,” said Yakovetic, a painter and sculptor whose first job was as a portrait artist at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, and who has worked more recently as a concept artist and theme park attraction designer for Disney and Universal Studios. “It’s like working in stone, except that it’s softer.”
Speaking on the day before Halloween, Yakovetic, together with another artist, had recently finished sculpting 73 Mike Wazowkis as part of a promotion for the release of Pixar’s “Monsters University” on Blu-ray. They used white ghost pumpkins (“They’re my favorites, cause the flesh is firmer”) for the undergraduate monster’s round body and paper clips for his orthodontic retainer.
Yakovetic also uses materials like skewers, chopsticks, ribbon and felt. Sometimes he deploys smaller gourds for a body part -- Mr. Potato Head’s feet, for instance, are mini pumpkins cut in half.
The pumpkins at Disneyland aren’t for sale, but they aren’t wasted either, Yakovetic said. The trimmings go to feed animals in the park and the old pumpkins get composted.
Because his is a daytime attraction at Disneyland and there’s no need to light Yakovetic’s pumpkins up, the artist doesn’t scoop out the innards of his jack-o'-lanterns. As a result, they tend to last longer.
“I will sometimes bring a favorite home with me,” said Yakovetic, who lives in Norwalk. “My Ichabod Crane lasted 18 months.”