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    Donna O’Bryan can’t remember a Halloween that didn’t involve carving pumpkins. She still has memories of growing up in Louisville in the 1950s and watching her mother stab a butcher knife into orange pumpkin flesh. O’Bryan’s preferred medium, though, is an artificial foam pumpkin, which she can turn into a character from, say, Twilight, Frozen or Shrek. For the past 11 years, she has shown her collection, totaling about 200 hand-carved pumpkins, at the Louisville Zoo during the Halloween season.

    At her Audubon home, a wooden Adirondack chair in the backyard has a red-eyed skull for a back. Jack-o’-lanterns smile and sneer above the front window. There are as many images of black cats here as there are of Mickey Mouse at Disney World. O’Bryan even wears black cat earrings. She carves pumpkins here all year long, scavenging discount bins at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michaels as red and green devour orange and black.

    O’Bryan keeps an in-progress foam pumpkin wedged in a drawer near the stove. “Most people have a workshop,” she says. “I have a kitchen.” One tool that’s a cross between an X-Acto knife and a soldering iron can heat up to nearly 1,000 degrees. It sits on top of the stove’s iron grates. She adheres stencils to the pumpkins with simple school glue and wears safety goggles when carving with a saw to keep foam dust from spraying into her eyes. A pink-and-white leather glove has extra padding in the heel of her palm to prevent cramps. Her designs this year include a Día de los Muertos-style cat and an intricate lion, her ode to Kenya, the male lion who died at the zoo last November. Kenya, with his miniscule curls of mane, took her about three days of hours-long sessions standing at the stove. A warlock Mickey Mouse will take her about an hour.

    She looks at pictures of her past creations. Pikachu, a lattice owl, a Rubik’s cube with individual pieces of tissue paper glued inside each square. “If I only had one pumpkin on my porch, it would be Frankenstein,” O’Bryan says. “That’s perfect Halloween.”

    This originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Mickie Winters,

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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