What’s Up, Pumpkinrot?

On lookout for the elusive artist synonymous with Halloween.

 

 

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Mr. Jones is a found-footage horror movie with a metaphysical twist; it follows a duo of documentarians on the trail of an anonymous outsider artist known only as “Mr. Jones”.  His underground workshop is filled with amazing scarecrows, each one eerie and immediately arresting.  Completely organic, it’s as though the artist molded a handfuls of forest debris into powerful entities—neither dead or alive, rather dead and alive.

In addition to being a film, parts of Mr. Jones can also be regarded as a video exhibition of works by an artist known as Pumpkinrot (or sometimes simply Rot), the man responsible for creating all the movie’s scarecrow props.  In the film’s 3rd Act, his pieces are set on fire—an act I’d consider unforgivable if it hadn’t been recorded.  Far from destroying beauty, director Karl Mueller immortalizes the artist’s work, taking us on a hallucinatory journey where time disintegrates—an immersive world of flame and spirits.

While Mr. Jones was my personal introduction to the art of Pumpkinrot, he’s become synonymous with Halloween to a small but vocal fan base; he’s achieved an almost legendary status since his scarecrows began popping up in rural Pennsylvania around the autumn of 2000.  Never one for public adoration, Pumpkinrot would watch people’s reactions to his art from the shadows.

Actor Mark Steger as Mr. Jones

Actor Mark Steger as Mr. Jones

Pumpkinrot is every bit as elusive and intriguing as the fictitious Mr. Jones.  Blogger KO describes the artist in an article on The Skeleton Key (a site dedicated to Halloween): “Pumpkinrot is a mystery; he purposefully keeps his identity private by not posting pictures or personal information about himself. But his blog contains all the information you need to know: he is the real deal–a bona fide freak for Halloween and an artist in his own right.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that such a deliberately private person is difficult to contact.  While a request for an interview with The Blood-Shed went unanswered, Pumpkinrot recently spoke to Lori Rotenberk at Modern Farmer; of the intangible artist, she writes: “Rot insisted on email-only communication and never revealed his real name, saying only that he’s in his early 40s.  His darkly beautiful works became legend. Rot built a website and is now followed by scarecrow enthusiasts worldwide.”

2013_103Unlike the completely non-verbal Mr. Jones, Pumpkinrot has a voice.  In Rotenberk’s article, an examination of the enduring mythos and iconography of scarecrows, Rot, a suburbanite, wrote: “I was drawn to scarecrows upon seeing them as a child when my parents took me on long drives through rural Pennsylvania. I remember being very curious about farms and wondering what it might be like to live that different life.  It seemed very isolated to me. And we’d always see crude scarecrows.  It’s a lonesome post, standing in the fields for days and months as weather and the elements slowly turn the scarecrow to rotting, disintegrating tatters.”

In 2014, KO snagged a horror blogger’s Unholy Grail by landing the most comprehensive and in-depth interview with Pumpkinrot you’re likely to find.  Rather than try to surmise or give you quotes out of context, I suggest making time to read it in its entirety: HERE.  Most enjoyable for me, though, was reading Rot’s views regarding anonymity, not only for himself, but for his process; his creations are never seen until they emerge from his workshop fully formed.

Just as “rot” is an essential part of the artist’s moniker, decay is an integral component of the art, speaking to the inevitable ravages of time.  Constructed of the most rudimentary materials, these hypnotic creations are no match against harsh autumn elements—and that’s the point.  All things are fleeting and death is inevitable: This is a core tenet of Halloween. The art embodies a time of year when, instead of cowering with our fears, we laugh in the Grim Reaper’s face, becoming willing participants in a never-ending dance macabre.

Take time to appreciate the splendid morbidity of Pumpkinrot’s distinctive creations; click on the thumbnails to see full-sized images.

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I’m not suggesting Pumpkinrot is Mr. Jones, or that he was the character’s inspiration; I don’t believe that.  Still, numerous parallels between the two make this type of speculation nearly unavoidable.  Was Rot merely an artistic collaborator and on-set prop master, or did his essence somehow permeate aspects of the fictitious interdimensional mute—the titular Mr. Jones?  If he was the inspiration for Mr. Jones, I should probably be worried: The documentarians in the movie suffer dearly for their curious intrusions.

But I’ve no desire to expose Pumpkinrot’s identity, nor am I looking for details regarding his personal life.  If anonymity is what he needs to bring his brilliant creations to life, then we should allow him all he needs.  Plus, this mystique enhances our appreciation of the art and the artist.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he grew into a cultural icon like Banksy or Basquiat.  No one can match his ability to twist primal imagery into higher art aesthetics.  And he’s a hero in the horror community, recognized as a champion of all things both bleak and beautiful.

While Pumpkinrot blogs daily (often several times daily) about all things Halloween, his Etsy shop is empty.  Since 2008, he’s sold nearly 800 unique pieces of art to fans and collectors, but today, the shelves are barren.  Has Rot retreated into necessary solitude in order to create his 2015 yard haunt, or has the shop been shuttered?  If this is evidence of an artistic hiatus, will the break be temporary or permanent?  I wish I knew.

As we enter October and excitement surrounding Halloween becomes palpable, travelers in rural Pennsylvania should be on the lookout for Pumpkinrot’s signature scarecrows: Those gargoyles of bone and sticks; lone protectors guarding against unseen forces, harbingers of both hope and horror.  If you see one let me know—send me a picture if possible.  Halloween just wouldn’t be the same without him.

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Prologue

As I’m crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s in this article, I finally get a response from Pumpkinrot regarding my request for interview, a query that also asked for an update regarding the status of his Etsy shop.  “Have you retired?” I asked.  His reply is bittersweet.

“Hi Josh.  Sorry for the delay, I get a lot of emails this time of year and have been more busy than usual working on my 2015 display (I started late this year).  I haven’t retired from Haunting, just from selling our works.  Thanks a ton for your interest in an interview, but that’s not something I usually do.  Just don’t feel comfortable doing it for whatever reason.  I really do appreciate it though.”

He signs his email “J”—a possible Mr. Jones connection?  Couldn’t be!

Good luck with this year’s Haunt, Pumpkinrot! Can’t wait to see the pictures come November!

Are you a fan of the artist known as Pumpkinrot?  Have you seen his work or do you own one of his pieces?  Sound off in the Comments section!

Follow me on Twitter @josh_millican for quality horror articles worthy of your attention.

Pumpkinrot scarecrow in Mr. Jones (2013) directed by Karl Mueller

Pumpkinrot scarecrow in Mr. Jones (2013) directed by Karl Mueller

 

 

5 Comments on this post.

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  • Jason King
    22 September 2015 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I love PumpkinRot’s blog. I was inspired a few years ago to try my hand a paper mache, or glue mache is what I believe he works with and make some Halloween décor, man, the process is just as long and hard as I remember it being. Bless him for having the patience to work with the stuff and make amazing decorations and characters with it. For me, I’ll just stick with clay, plaster and latex. Also, look up his Witch Jars, they are extremely easy to make and effective Halloween (or year round spooky) candle jars.

  • Pumpkinrot Is God | The Skeleton Key
    24 September 2015 at 2:02 am - Reply

    […] out this new Blood-Shed article by Josh Millican about our favorite Halloween artist, genius, and constant source of inspiration, […]

  • Cavender
    24 September 2015 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Pumpkinrot is a kindred spirit. I have admired his work on the pages of the Internet and read the interview that O’Shields conducted with him when it was released in 2014. He is an astounding artist but, contrary to his talent, holds such simplicity in high regard, as the closing lines of that interview indicate. Almost all of my favorite things, sights and smells that bring me comfort and constant reverie, were mentioned in his answers regarding Halloween and autumn.

    I am feeling a strong pull to make a trip to merely drive aimlessly through rural PA, in hopes of spotting a magnificent scarecrow, or some other macabre masterpiece. He is inspiring in the same way that Bradbury’s “the Halloween Tree” inspires; a traditional, classic, timeless, yet forceful inspiration. An embodiment of this greatest season.

    PumpkinRot; truly my present-day Halloween (soul mate) Hero.

    • Josh Millican
      24 September 2015 at 8:11 pm - Reply

      Awesome words! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jeff
    25 September 2015 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Rot is everything that is great about my favorite holiday, without the filler and fluff. He’s an inspiration to the art that I do, has been since I first discovered Johnny Appleseed quite a few years ago. Deep down I would love to sit and talk with him about his work, his outlook on things, what makes him do what he does, but I know I never will and I’m pretty sure I understand why. True greatness often times comes with a price, adoring fans, hero worship, obsession…

    Perhaps instead of wondering who J, Rot…really is, we should focus on what he would seem to be about, of Halloween at it’s most pure, where everything is possible, when fantasy and reality join hand in hand in unbridled mischief and delight. I hope he never stops doing what he does, it’s a more magical place out there with him in it.

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