Lenny Calvin of Long Beach, a carpenter by trade and a sculptor by avocation, will be among the seven competitors on season 2 of Food Network's seasonal pumpkin-carving competition, the four-episode "Outrageous Pumpkins" (premiering Sunday at 10 p.m.).
"It blows people's minds when they realize you can really make something completely different than a jack-o'-lantern," says Calvin, 58, whose whimsically horrific faces in pumpkins and other types of squashes and gourds help continue a tradition that stretches centuries to stone gargoyles and grotesques. The primary difference other than specific media, he notes, is that like Buddhist sand mandalas, his art is not meant to last.
"I like the fact that it's temporary art," Calvin says by phone from home. "I like the fact there's a clock ticking. The moment you cut into a gourd, a pumpkin, a squash, it's dehydrating — it's disintegrating in front of your face as you're working on it. You're living the whole artistic vibe doing what you're doing, and then you have moments when it's finished and you enjoy the finished product. And if you're lucky, you get to take a really cool picture of it and then it goes away and it's just in your memory or in a photograph."
Calvin — who previously competed as part of two different three-person teams, alongside a baker and a confectioner, on the network's "Halloween Wars" seasons 6 (2016) and 8 (2018) — has worked in organic sculpture "probably a good 12, 15 years," he says. "I do a lot of clay sculptures. I've done a little bit of wood. Years ago I messed around with ice."
Since 2013, with a break for the pandemic, he has given pumpkin-carving demonstrations at the various Stew Leonard's supermarkets throughout the region, and has begun giving classes online. Lately he has begun pickling some of his creations, including grandly ornate and monstrous, Cthulhu-like creatures, preserving them indefinitely in airtight containers for display. More to his temperament is a nascent set of humorous monster characters in clay, The Nubblings, that he is developing for some as-yet-undefined use.
Born in California, with a father who died when Calvin was a child, the artist grew up in New Jersey with his mother and stepfather. His mother's sister's husband, Bill Wood, "was like a surrogate father to me," he says. A well-regarded graphic artist who once received a BOLI (Best on Long Island) award from the Long Island Advertising Club, Wood "kind of opened my eyes to the art world. I had a very good imagination and creativity, and he always told me to jump into every kind of medium to find something of your own, and you'll find the ones that stick."
The motorcycle-riding Calvin spent most of his adulthood in New Jersey, and moved to Long Beach a few years ago with his wife Viana, who grew up and had a home there. "We wanted to be a little closer to our granddaughters," now 13 and 16, Calvin says
His wife, he adds amiably, keeps his artistry in perspective since carpentry pays the bills. "She considers everything I do with art as 'arts and crafts.' It's a running joke in my house: When she meets all my nutty friends who are artists and like that, she's, like, 'I don't get all this arts and crafts stuff!' " But as for his grandkids, Calvin says, his pumpkin-carving on television "keeps my grandpa 'cool' points up!"