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Pumpkin painter puts on a happy face

Dee Stark once balked at the idea of carving pumpkins with a house full of teenage girls, and convinced the girls they should paint them instead. She's never stopped, and 34 years later still creates a selection of happy-faced Halloween pumpkins for sale in Montevideo. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)1 / 3
Dee Stark dresses up her pumpkins with hats and other attire, and always makes sure they have a happy face. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)2 / 3
Dee Stark also adds a few gourds to her creative venture, this ghostly gourd being an example. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)3 / 3

MONTEVIDEO -- When her two teenage daughters invited a house full of friends over for a slumber party and suggested they carve pumpkins for Halloween, mom balked at the thought of the mess she would face.

We'll paint them, Dee Stark said she told the girls.

A full 34 years later, she is still painting them.

"It just took off,'' said Stark of what has become a Halloween tradition in Montevideo.

Each year Stark will paint roughly 200 pumpkins and a few assorted gourds and decorate them with hats and other attire. She offers them for sale at her home at 1224 North Fourth Street by the Ramsey School.

No two of her pumpkins are ever alike, but they all share one common theme. Whether dressed as witches or country bumpkins, they all wear happy faces for this otherwise frightful season.

She's never had to smash a one. She always sells out before Halloween, although she also makes a point of setting a few of her creations aside to donate to the local nursing home.

Stark said she had no idea what would happen when she put her first painted pumpkins up for sale, and was surprised when they sold out quickly.

Longtime customers continue to return, and new and young customers continue to discover her display.

Her reputation even brought a young couple calling on the eve of their wedding. She created a pumpkin bride and a groom to decorate the head table for their late October celebration.

Jim Pahl of Benson raises the pumpkins for her. Each year the two go through seed catalogs in search of the right pumpkins. She always ends up with an assortment, and paints pumpkins that range from tiny to giant.

Her biggest pumpkin ever came as a practical joke. It took three grown men and a pickup truck to plop it on her front porch.

She painted it.

She starts painting her pumpkins at the end of September. By the start of October she has customers calling.

Sales this year have gotten off to a slower start than usual, which she believes may be due to the economy.

Stark said she uses no models for her pumpkin faces; each is its own inspiration.

"When I look at the old faces compared to the faces now, I think I've gotten better, a little more practiced,'' she said, laughing.

One thing hasn't changed through all of the years. "I love Halloween,'' she said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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