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Former Miss Wisconsin finalist carves her own niche as a pumpkin artist

October 13, 2010 | 09:03 AM
Pumpkins everywhere. They form a single-file line up the walkway to Dori Beck's front door. A pile of brightly-painted pumpkins take residency in a corner by the stairs. More groups adorn counters and tables in the kitchen.

Some of them operate solo in their function as decorations throughout the first floor of the Beck residence in Randall Township. A couple flank the television.

But everywhere you look, there's at least one pumpkin. And everything inside the home has an orange hue.

"Orange has always been my favorite color, even before I got back into pumpkin carving," Dori said.

What once was a favorite pasttime with her brother now is something she does professionally. Patrons of several area businesses, including 96.1 WLKG, Golden Oaks Mansion, Bistro 220, Carvetti's, likely have seen her work — intricate designs of business logos carved mostly into the faces of pumpkins, but occasionally other types of fruit such as squash.

Some may remember her from being a regular part of Oktoberfest in Lake Geneva. Some know her as "Dori the Pumpkin Lady," or through her business, Custom Carved Creations, an endeavor which keeps her busy from October to December.

"I thought of it as a business right away," Dori said. "But I pretty much dabble in everything. I love to create and do stuff. ... It's pretty much full-time in October."

Good thing Dori likes her seasonal job. She's still got about 25 pumpkin carving requests to fill.

"For me, this is relaxing," she said as she works a jigsaw blade into the side of a pumpkin, carving out a design around the word "welcome" on a pumpkin she took to Oktoberfest last weekend. "It's almost like my yoga, my mental release."

The pumpkin bug bites

Some know Dori for another of her claims to fame as a finalist representing Genoa City in the 1986 Miss Wisconsin pageant.

After her family moved to the area in 1983, she attended Star Center and Brookwood schools.

She remained in the area and, to this day, continues to buy her pumpkins from Kloppstein Farms.

But the pumpkin bug bit her 13 years ago, when she was working at Mars Resort, Lake Como.

"I got a pumpkin and I actually tried to carve one of those patterns you find in a book," Dori said. "So, I cut it, it took like an hour and I was like, why don't I just draw something?"

She decided on drawing her daughter's name, Hali, who at that time wasn't even a year old.

"I did 'Happy Hali-ween' and a spooky scene on a pumpkin for Mars," Dori said. "They put it on the piano bar."

Then, requests for pumpkin carvings started rolling in and things happened fast. In a couple months, Custom Carved Creations was established and she made her first appearance at Oktoberfest.

"I take 10 hollow pumpkins with me," Dori said. "It only takes maybe 20 minutes to a half-hour for me to carve someone's name in there."

She attracts some onlookers, but not everyone is amazed. Some are disgusted watching Dori "gut" the pumpkin.

"The goop and stuff doesn't really bother me," Dori said.

Typically, she said she likes to start carving in the middle of a pumpkin before working her way out.

"I think it's easier because it gets flimsy as you go," Dori said.

She said all of her designs are freehand, and she uses several handmade tools comprised of different jigsaw blades and other wood-carving instruments.

"One thing is I've never screwed up," Dori said. "No messed-up designs. I haven't had to throw any pumpkins away ... but I have broken blades."

For her, the best part is lighting the inside of the pumpkin, which she said brings the designs alive.

"I don't light a pumpkin until it's done, because that's where the satisfaction really comes in," Dori said.

Big jobs

After her Oktoberfest debut, Dori said someone contacted her to carve 20 pumpkins for a company party.

"They wanted 10 (pumpkin) faces to raffle off and 10 different scenes," she said.

Since then, she's appeared at various area events and created pumpkins for weddings, businesses and otherwise.

Although her first job netted her $600, it wasn't her biggest.

"My biggest job? A 120-pound pumpkin for the Milwaukee Admirals," Dori said. "They had me on the Jumbotron. They gave me a jersey. It was awesome. (The pumpkin carving) took me about nine hours."

The longest job was carving Frank Sinatra's face into an 80-pound pumpkin. She said it was a more intricate design, which took her 11 hours — two days — to complete.

But her favorite — and most expensive — was for a local business.

"Bistro 220 really has been my most incredible piece," Dori said.

She said she copied one of the business cards for the establishment.

"I was so excited to deliver it," Dori said. "People scrambled around and there were like 20 people in there when I dropped by. When they saw it, they were so excited, too."

The next step for Dori could take her into the realm of scientific breakthrough.

She said she is working on a technique to preserve her creations. Pumpkins rot, so since she began Custom Carved Creations, she has been looking into techniques such as freeze-drying and lacquers so people can keep what she makes them.

"We're experimenting with some things that actually might work," Dori said. "You need to kill germs and pull the moisture out from the pumpkin without ruining it. I don't want to say anything more about it because I'm going to patent it."

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