Nuts for Pumpkins

Nick Leonoff handblows a glass pumpkin at his workshop in Carmel Valley.

Nick Leonoff makes high-end sculptures for artistic satisfaction, and glass pumpkins to pay for his “bread and butter.” He is the one who approached nonprofit MEarth and suggested pumpkins as a surefire fundraising magnet.

“It’s amazing how popular they are,” he says. “Glass pumpkins are mainly seasonal, but the pumpkin season starts already in August and September and October and nonstop for pumpkin makers, pumpkin patches and collectors. Pumpkins are all happening all at once. It’s nuts. We had 80 orders this month. We sell our pumpkins through a catalog and ship to all 50 states.”

This founder of the Glass Pumpkin Patch of Carmel has been blowing glass since 2004. He is not necessarily pumpkin-obsessed himself, but embraced this approachable form of “art for the people,” he says. While Leonoff’s other art pieces sell for thousands of dollars, miniature glass pumpkins start at $29 and attract even very young collectors. They come into his studio in Carmel Valley Village to pick a pumpkin for their collection or see a glassblowing demonstration.

“For me, this is a way to stay connected to the community,” Leonoff says.

Just weeks before the Pumpkin Patch, he and his partner-in-glass Tod Moore are making as many as 100 glass pumpkins daily. The smallest one is barely one inch wide, the standard size is seven to nine inches – 11 inches is a large glass pumpkin. They rarely break because this glass is durable.

“This is a really forgiving organic shape you can’t really go wrong with,” Moore says. “It’s a great opportunity to try other patterns, color, combinations and texture.”

It turns out, glass pumpkins come in many sizes, textures and colors, from traditional orange to seafoam Monterey blue.

Watching a production of a glass pumpkin is fascinating, but doesn’t take away from the mystery of the process. Dancing their pumpkin dance of fire, water and expanding glass, Leonoff and Moore are like modern alchemists; their movements are quick, almost ritualistic.

“A lot of techniques are ancient,” Leonoff says. “Others we studied at various trade schools.”

Some of the pieces produced at Leonoff’s glass studio will be featured in the Pumpkin Patch. Many more will be shipped via catalog orders. After the pumpkin craziness is over – not until January – Leonoff will have a chance to work at his other Carmel Valley glass studio.

In the meantime, he has no other option than to agree: There’s no better time than pumpkin time.

THE GLASS PUMPKIN PATCH OF CARMEL happens from 10am-5pm on Saturday, Sept. 18 and 10am-4pm on Sunday, Sept. 19. Hilton Bialek Habitat, 4380 Carmel Valley Road (adjacent to Carmel Middle School). 624-1032, mearthcarmel.org.

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