Feeney first gained experience drawing and sculpting faces while working as a forensic artist for the New York Police Department, and then in the art department of Industrial Light and Magic.
“Once you learn how to carve in media like clay, it’s not all that different to carve a pumpkin because you use a lot of similar tools,” says Feeney. “You just have to be careful not to cut too deep because you can’t put it back.”
In 2008 he began an annual tradition of carving photorealistic jack-o-lanterns in memoriam of such musicians as Ravi Shankar and Adam Yauch. Since then, his team has completed numerous projects, including a 10-foot tree made of fruit for Dairy Queen that earned the Guinness World Record for largest food sculpture.
The impermanence of his art doesn’t bother Feeney, who says that if he wants to make a lasting work of art, he’ll choose a different medium. “As long as I get good photograph, I’m happy with it,” says Feeney. “There’s a sunset every night. We don’t begrudge the sun because it could always come out again.”
When a friend gave Feeney an especially firm avocado, he knew that he had to use it for his art. This avocado carving is inspired by singer Nina Simone‘s facial structure, though it’s not actually a portrait of her.
When Feeney stumbled across this yucca in the store, he immediately knew that the notch at the top would be perfect for a head. The contrast of the rough yucca exterior with the smooth white interior gave Feeney the idea of a polar explorer: thus, Ernest Shackleton.
Hubbard Squash and Broccoli Georgia O’Keefe
This particular carving of O’Keefe is inspired by her famous quote, “I wish people were all trees, and I think I could enjoy them.” The skin of O’Keefe is meant to look like tree bark, and the broccoli to look like trees.
Pumpkin Shrunken Head
Feeney loves finding weird-shaped pumpkins. This relatively small pumpkin is only around seven inches long, not including the stem.
This 10-foot long watermelon dragon required 14 watermelons and 2 pineapples (for horns). The piece was made for a summer campout, where Feeney scooped out all of the red fruit to serve to the campers. According to the attendees, this helped them to feel more involved with the sculpture.
This duo of twisted parsnips (found in the parsnip bin at the grocery store) immediately gave Feeney the vision of two figures hugging. The face itself here is very small — maybe an inch or so wide — so it took him a lot of fine work to get down the details.
Similar to a pumpkin but a bit more dense, American Tondo Squash have large ridges, perfect for constructing this big nose leading up into the figure’s forehead. When Feeney gave this sculpture to a friend, sap dripped out of Agatha’s eyes as though she was crying.
To create this one, Feeney spent the day in a pumpkin patch. The pumpkin here, an Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, is probably around 350 lbs large and 3 feet wide. Feeney knew right away that the curve at the base of this pumpkin would be perfect for a cleft chin.
This piece was made for Black Rock Arts Foundation’s annual fundraiser, Artumnal. Here, Feeney carved away almost all of the green watermelon skin aside from the little design at the top. He used the fruit’s red flesh to create the face.
Dia De Los Muertos Pumpkin
When Feeney found this skull-shaped pumpkin he decided to model this piece after the sugar skull designs of the Dia De Los Muertos. He made this one for an event in San Francisco.
Charlie Acorn Squash
This one was made for fun, just because Feeney wanted to try carving into acorn squash. This acorn squash man, he says, looks as though he’s flying through the air.