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A jack of all lanterns

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By Jenny Arnold

 

A jack of all lanterns

Versatile artist Jamie Ouzts excels in pumpkin carving 

Jenny Arnold

jarnold@thelancasternews.com

Local artist Jamie Ouzts hooks up an oscillating saw and brings the vibrating power tool close to the surface of his medium to make the first cut.

Then he stops.

Too violent,” he says, and starts working the medium with a tiny saw with an orange plastic handle.

The material isn’t metal, Ouzts’ favored material of late, but a ghostly white pumpkin. The little saw came from a pumpkin-carving kit that stores stock this time of year.

I’ve seen people use power tools, like jig saws, but it makes a mess,” Ouzts said. 

Using the saw from the kit is “probably the best way not to cut your thumb off,” he said.

Ouzts was asked by local bride Jennifer Oswald Knight, who got married Oct. 17, to carve four white pumpkins with hers and the groom’s initials to be used as wedding decorations. 

Ouzts has carved his share of Halloween jack-o’-lanterns, and mostly given them away. However the carved bride and groom pumpkin was a first.

I’ve never done a pumpkin for a wedding, and the white pumpkin is a little different,” Ouzts said.

He created computer stencils of the letters, printed them out and then cut them out and taped them to the pumpkins. 

He made dots around the stencils into the pumpkin skins to transfer the design onto the gourds so he would have lines to follow while carving.

Ouzts, 32, has made an art of carving pumpkins since he was a child. It was something he liked to do every year around Halloween with his mother, Debbie, and brother, Robbie.

Mom was very craft friendly and anything we wanted to do she’d help us do it,” Ouzts said.

Ouzts, a Greenwood native, graduated from Winthrop University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art. He began working with metal artist Bob Doster in 2002. He assists Doster in the fabrication of popular, decorative sculptures ranging from larger pieces like local school mascots to  See Lancaster signs on the outskirts of town and other custom projects. 

Ouzts moved to Lancaster two years ago. His love of creating art began early.

I was three when my brother was born and I used to draw pictures to entertain him,” he said.

His carved pumpkins include theatrical jack-o’-laterns, scenes with witches and other Halloween creepies and self portraits.

I want it to be something I haven’t seen on a pumpkin before,” Ouzts said. “It kind of depends on the pumpkin, too. Sometimes they kind of look like something.”

Like the lumpy gourd Ouzts has found this year. It might just become Joseph Merrick, better known as the “Elephant Man.”

He’s the best pumpkin carver in town,” said Christina Chastain, programs and gallery director for the Lancaster County Council of the Arts. Ouzts’ work has been displayed at the arts council gallery in the past.

He’s won our pumpkin-carving contest two years in a row, and we’ve only had it two years,” Chastain said. “As a sculptor, he can visualize the space on a two-dimensional surface and make great things happen. I think he is an exceptional artist in his use of space.”

Like his love of art, Ouzts’ love of Halloween began early, and pumpkin carving goes along with it. 

He recalls the time his grandmother, whom he calls “Docca,” (short for Dorcus), asked him when he was young what his favorite holiday was. 

When Ouzts answered Halloween, his grandmother said surely it was Christmas.

And I said, ‘But Christmas ain’t scary,’ ” Ouzts said. “I’ve just always liked it. I like the creepy. I used to have very elaborate costumes and of course, we made them all. If I was a werewolf, we were cutting fake fur and gluing it to me. If I was Frankenstein, I wore a padded shirt and big shoes. It’s the one time a year I’m theatrical. I’m not theatrical at all.”

 

Contact senior reporter

Jenny Arnold at (803) 283-1151