Originally published in 2015; updated in 2017.
By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
It’s a ritual well-known to many families: lay out newspapers for a work area, grab a big knife, cut, clean out the “guts,” and carve away. What starts as a pumpkin ends up as a jack-o-lantern: sometimes basic, sometimes more elaborate. But for one Centerville family, creating jack-o-lanterns goes beyond a quick Halloween activity — it is a passion and a tradition with results that delight the community.
For years, the Dickover family has had a jack-o-lantern display in its front yard that amounts to a fascinating gallery — ghoulish gourds, pumpkin perfections that are among the most creative, intricate works you will ever see. What started as a fun family project is now a tradition that each year attracts around a thousand visitors to the family’s home each Halloween night.
Noel Dickover — government contractor by day, master carver by night — has been designing elaborate pumpkins for nearly 20 years. Joined by his wife, children, other family members and friends, he now assembles a team each year that works diligently for weeks on the creations. The family stores the pumpkin art in two refrigerators and sometimes has to count on friends’ fridges for “overflow” space. In the early days, the family carved a handful of pumpkins but now creates dozens each year. On Halloween night, the family displays the pumpkins in its front yard, arranged so that visitors can easily walk by and look at each artwork up close.
Noel will sit outside his house nearly all night, happily answering questions guests have:
- Do you use patterns, or design your own? (Some patterns, but now mostly it’s our own designs)
- What kind of tools do you use? (All kinds of carving tools… we now have dozens)
- How long does it take to carve each one? (Anywhere from one hour to 24 hours or more)
- Do you ever get tired of making these? (No — the work can be tiring, but we never tire of them)
- Where do you get your ideas? (From shows we love, popular movies, and suggestions and requests from friends — and sometimes the shape of the pumpkin itself just calls out for a particular design)
We have visited this display for the past few years and never ceased to be amazed by the level of detail, artistry, humor, and connection with contemporary culture displayed in the pumpkins. The carvings pay homage to wide-ranging subjects: classic cartoons, Disney, Star Wars, zombies and ghouls, action heroes, Dr. Seuss characters, dragons, Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh and friends, science fiction shows, and much more.
When we visited in 2014, I asked Noel how he felt when the trash trucks came by after Halloween and the pumpkins were hauled away: did he feel a tinge of heartbreak to know that so many hours upon hours of work just end up in the trash? “No,” he said. “I know this is something fun for just a little bit. We just love that people get to enjoy them and that it makes them so happy.”
You can see the pumpkins on Halloween night at the Dickover home, 14223 Hartwood Court in Centreville, Virginia. The best times to go are after trick-or-treating. Check out this year’s pumpkins on Noel’s Facebook page and follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more sneak peeks. You also can see the designs from past years on the family’s Fantasy Pumpkins website, where they also provide tutorials, videos, and free pumpkin carving patterns and stencils. You can learn more about the family in this 2013 Connection Newspapers article.
Photos (c) Patricia Hall. To see much better (high-quality, detailed photos), visit the Fantasy Pumpkins website