Interview with a master pumpkin carver: Shawn Feeney of Team Bling Bats

Pub date October 25, 2011
SectionPixel Vision

The triumphant Team Bling Bats might owe some of their success to German electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Without it, the champions of the Food Network reality design show Halloween Wars might not have had the kickass contributions of SF local Shawn Feeney, who helped drive the team to victory in the four-episode series final show on Sunday.

Feeney is an concept art illustrator working at Industrial Light and Magic, but in his spare time he creates these killer jack-o-lanterns that feature the face of a musician who has passed away in the last year (wo0o0o0o0o0oo!). Stockhausen, a composer who made music to be performed on helicopters, by three orchestras at once, and in weeklong cycles. His face was one of the ones that Food Network brass saw on Feeney’s website, who then contacted him to be on the show. 

On Sunday, Feeney sat down with buddies at Asiento in the Mission to watch his Bling Bats defeat Team Boo. Then he sat down to email us his secret tricks and what he’s going to say to Obama to put this country back on track, via pumpkinery. 


SFBG: Where’d you get them carving skills from?

SF: I used to work in a prosthetic hand laboratory. I also got a master of fine arts in New Zealand, and later worked as a forensic artist for the New York police. Recently, I have been working at effects studio Industrial Light and Magic, where I’ve further developed my analog and digital sculpting skills.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, German godfather of electronic music, composed pieces that were meant to be performed in a helicopter and one for three orchestras. He became Feeney’s gourd muse when he passed away in 2007.

SFBG: How did you prepare for last night’s battle?

SF: There was an enormous amount of surface area on that 1200-pound pumpkin, so I knew the ribbon loop tool I usually use wouldn’t suffice to get the skin off. Instead, I got an angle grinder – that thing vaporized the pumpkin skin into a fine mist (although it made the floor dangerously slippery).


SFBG: How would you rate your performance?

SF: I think Karen Portaleo, Susan Notter, and I really worked well together as a team, with each member contributing equally. I’m in awe of their talents. I didn’t approach this as a pumpkin carving contest – rather, I tried to develop designs that showcased everyone’s skills in a cohesive manner.


SFBG: How are you celebrating your triumph?

SF: I watched the final episode at Asiento in the Mission with some friends – the whole bar was on pins and needles! I’ve decided to use the winnings to further develop my carving practice, even beyond pumpkins. I’ll be making a lot more work in this field in the coming months, and I’m available for custom carvings, events, and teaching. I’ve really excited to offer my skills to the Bay Area foodie culture. 


SFBG: I hear you’re carving presidents for Obama. Please explain. 

SF: I’m carving pumpkins for Obama. A couple weeks ago, I got in touch with fruit and vegetable artist James Parker. He’d been watching Halloween Wars and liked my work. James organizes this event to bring some of the top carving and culinary artists to create displays for the White House lawn on Halloween. I feel honored that he invited me to participate.


SFBG: Also, can you tell him that we’re a little frustrated with him right now? I’m not sure if you can work that into pumpkin discussions, but surely you can craft a metaphor involving pumpkin smashing. Or whatnot. 

SF: Hopefully Obama is astute enough to realize there is much unrest in the country right now due to vast economic inequality. At this event though, I’m really aiming to inspire (and perhaps scare) the trick-o-treaters, and to collaborate with some of the top food sculptors in the country.