Let's say tomorrow you are appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. You decree that every household in the nation shall be expected to create and display a new sculpture each fall.
Sorry, but it's been done. Think Halloween. Think jack-o'-lanterns.
What is a hand-carved pumpkin if not a bit of three-dimensional art? And it should probably win you points that, unlike, say, the art in Brooklyn, you didn't need to chop up a cow or collect compost to create it.
To demonstrate, The Sun asked four Baltimoreans from quite different walks of life to carve a pumpkin for Halloween. They are a pediatric surgeon, a chef, an artist and an architect. The only instruction was to make the pumpkin say something about them.
The results varied wildly. Some were whimsical, others a bit scary. All the carvers reported having a blast.
"You have to see where the pumpkin takes you," says Steven G. Ziger, senior vice president of Ziger/Snead Inc., a Baltimore architectural firm. "Each one has its own personality."
Ziger's pumpkin turned out to have the personality of a pachyderm. True to his profession, he built it from the ground up: The architect chose squash as the ideal material for legs, a tail, a head and eyes.
"I was impressed by the gourds," he says.
The 44-year-old may be the most experienced pumpkin sculptor in the group: Each Thursday before Halloween, Ziger and his staff of 17 carve pumpkins as a kind of creative exercise.
"It's not really architectural, but it's fun," he says.
Far more traditional was the jack-o'-lantern carved by Dr. Paul Colombani, 48, Johns Hopkins Children's Center's chief of pediatric surgery. From the toothy grin to the triangular nose, it had to meet the Colombani vision.
In keeping with his own line of work, Colombani had help -- his secretary prepped the patient, scooping out the seeds and cutting out the cap to make it easier for her boss to complete the job in the five minutes he had set aside to do it.
Hey, it's not his more customary 16-hour transplant surgery, but the patient never complained.
While final details were cut with a scalpel, most of the work was actually done with the paring knife Colombani found in his desk, a souvenir from all those late-night meals eaten in his office.
"With the right tool, you can do anything," he says.
The person with the least experience at pumpkin carving turned out to be a fellow knife-wielder. Ed Rogers, who is chef and owner of La Tesso Tana, the intimate Italian restaurant across from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, admits he had never carved one until The Sun came calling.
"My daughter [Ashley] usually carves the pumpkin," says Rogers. "Making pumpkin soup is one thing, carving one is another."
Rogers turned his pumpkin into a veritable cornucopia of food, with peppers spilling from its mouth, a sprig of basil in one eye, pasta coming out the other, a bottle of red wine springing from its head.
Inspired by his creation, he plans to display the pumpkin at his restaurant with a sign seeking donations to a food bank.
"I have no great artistic ability beyond cooking, and this proves it," insists Rogers, 49.
Whitney Sherman, 50, has loads of artistic ability -- it's just usually channeled into illustration and design. Among her many (albeit strictly two-dimensional) works is the U.S. Postal Service stamp that has raised millions of dollars nationally for breast-cancer research.
But Halloween has always had a place in her heart -- as a child, her parents dressed her in original costumes each year -- and she continues to celebrate the holiday with her 17-year-old daughter, Bryn Freeman.
One year, Sherman brought home a Halloween pumpkin so large it got stuck in her car trunk. She had to crawl in and unscrew the trunk lid's hinges to wrest it out.
"It was a little war-torn, but we used it," recalls Sherman, a part-time instructor at Maryland Institute, College of Art.
Her latest creation features a jack-o'-lantern with hands covering its eyes in fear, frightened by the small but very irate jack-o'-lantern perched on its head.
"It's fun to have a little silliness along with the scary," she says.