Carving the pumpkin man
Statue of Nick Venetucci takes shape in Darpino’s Manitou studio
Here's all you need to know about Fred Darpino.
He had molded the clay form of Nick Venetucci. Everything was fine. It was on its way to becoming an excellent sculpture. There was just this one nagging thought: The figure, to his eye at least, was out of proportion - 2 inches too short.
He couldn't just let the minor discrepancy go. “It would have bugged me forever,” Darpino said.
So he decided to rework the clay a bit, adding the two inches to the legs. He told himself he could do that easily without changing the rest of the statue. Wrong. “By the time I was through, I'd redone all of it,” he said.
Such attention to minute detail has been routine ever since the Manitou Springs Business of Art Center sculptor began the project last June. "I must have started over about 30 times," he said.
He's a perfectionist, but usually not that bad. It's just that Venetucci has a special place in Darpino's heart.
A former District 11 school teacher, for 30 years he took many a child to the Venetucci farm south of Colorado Springs for free pumpkins every fall. He saw with his own eyes the man's generosity.
Now 93, Venetucci gave out pumpkins to busload after busload of schoolchidren for 50 years. The streak came to an end two years ago when the drought was at its peak.
"He said he couldn't get a shovel into the ground," Darpino recalled in a recent presentation to students, parents, staff and the general public at Pike Elementary. "So the teachers said, 'Since he can't do this for us, let's do something for him.'"
That was how the idea came up for a sculpture to commemorate the "pumpkin man." Area schoolchildren have joined the effort, contributing a total of about $34,000 through the "Pennies for Pumpkins" to help with the estimated $100,000 cost.
The design, nearing final form (he hopes) in Darpino's studio, shows Venetucci giving a sizable pumpkin to a beaming child, while close by another youngster rolls an even bigger pumpkin along.
The rolling-pumpkin scenario was drawn from Darpino's memories of his visits - "The kids would always take pumpkins that were too big" - and from talks with Venetucci about how the sculpture should look. "I asked Nick what he remembered most and he said it was the kids trying to push the pumpkins that were too big," Darpino said.
Another set of true-to-life detail, in the background, will be a baseball jersey, with bats and a catcher's glove, Darpino said. This references Venetucci's youthful baseball talent. A Triple-A player in the Yankees' farm system, he was forced to quit that career to run the family farm when his father took ill.
Darpino has been creating bronze sculptures for about 20 years. His works include the girl scooping water piece in front of the Loop building in Manitou, as well as pieces commissioned by the City of Colorado Springs that are likely to be placed in Confluence Park, he said.
When complete - dedication is anticipated this fall - the roughly life-size statue will go downtown, possibly at the Pioneer Museum. Darpino said the plan is to have it stand on a pedestal, surrounded by marigolds and - naturally - a pumpkin patch.
Westside Pioneer Article