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Does Carving Conjure Memories of Pumpkins Past?


Can carving a pumpkin bring up the past?

That's the question contributor Gianofer Fields is hoping to answer. It's part of her exploration of the concept of "transformative state or flow."

It's a concept in material culture studies in which you are so wrapped up in a task that you loose track of time, where what you are doing takes you to a deeper place than the present and opens up past memories.

In the spirit of the recent holiday, Fields set out to get more insight into transformative flow at a pumpkin carving party at her friend's Madison home. She's hoping each pumpkin will send its carver merrily into the Flow and the gates to childhood memories will fling open.

Jamie Hogberg, one of the host's housemates, is in the process of sizing up her pumpkin. She's trying to decide on a design and rebukes the idea of stencils.

"They are like really specific about it and make these super intricate carvings, but I just learned about that two days ago," she says. "I just grew up just putting a knife into a pumpkin and seeing what happens.”

Although Hogberg is talking about childhood memories, she tells Fields she's not entering any sort of flow or state. So Fields turns to another party-goer, Elizabeth Nord, who says pumpking carving is like a battle.

"I don’t want the pumpkin to get the best of me, so I don’t want to put a lot of expectation into it," Nord says. "I get too frustrated and to into it so I don’t think I want to expend that kind of effort."

Just as Fields anticipates transformative flow about to happen, Nord bursts her bubble.

"Most of the time I would say that I get pretty absorbed and it is absorbing, I guess transformative in the sense that you can kind of lose yourself like any task when you are really absorbed into it, but I’m not," she says. "I can tell that this year, I’m not in that mood."

Fields has one more chance at capturing transformative flow: her friend John Robinson, the party's host. He's considering which pumpkin to carve and decides on the littlest one. It's a challenge, and he's determined, but he's not experiencing a transformative state.

Rather, he tells Fields he's thinking about the pumpkin he's carving now, and using lessons from pumpkins past to guide him.

"I think that it’s both...concentrating and...carving. It’s like, 'Why do I even care what this turns out like at all?' I guess in the end maybe I don’t but I also do," he says. "And I’m comfortable with that. It’s a low stakes kind of giddy little thrill to carve a pumpkin.”

Fields has struck out. But at least the pumpkins have had a transformative experience into some pretty sweet Jack O'Lanterns.

Gianofer Fields studies material culture at UW-Madison and is the curator of "It's a Material World" - that project is funded by the Chipstone Foundation, a decorative arts foundation whose mission is preserving and interpreting their collection, as well as stimulating research and education in the decorative arts.

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