Jack of fall trades

| October 25, 2018 | 0 Comments
Jake Voelker wanted to use an image of Father Michael Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, whom he met in 2004 and finds inspiring.

Jake Voelker poses with the pumpkin he carved for Halloween this year. He wanted to use an image of Father Michael Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, whom he met in 2004 and finds inspiring. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Jake Voelker gets an itch every October. Ideas start filling his mind, and his imagination plays with images he can carve — on a pumpkin.

He’s not talking the standard toothy grin cut with a kitchen knife. His faces are much more elaborate. They take 10-plus hours to forge, and he uses wood carving tools.

Rarely does the blade go all the way through the shell. This creates shading for a three-dimensional effect when a light bulb is lit inside the pumpkin. He began teaching himself in 2008, when working on the likeness of Sarah Palin, then the Republican nominee for vice president.

Voelker, 33, has carved a special pumpkin every year since. His favorite is the one from 2014 that announced that he and his wife, Shannon, 32, were expecting their second child. Parishioners of Epiphany in Coon Rapids, the Voelkers typically post a picture of the finished jack-o-lantern on Facebook, and the “Preggo Pumpkin” received many “likes” and congratulatory messages.

This year, Jake decided to do something intentionally Catholic. He came up with carving the face of Father Michael Schmitz, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth whose monthly column, “Ask Father Mike,” appears in The Catholic Spirit. Father Schmitz has gained widespread attention with his catechetical videos conducted in a casual style from his living room — the vantage Voelker captured.

After deciding to carve an image of Father Schmitz, Jake queried friends asking for a Catholic message to go with the priest’s face. The idea was to use something related to what Father Schmitz presents in his videos.

Next to his image are the words, “No tricks, it’s transubstantiation,” a phrase from a priest and friend, Father Jeremy Trowbridge from the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. The message refers to the consecration during Mass, in which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

“With all the negative news around the Church this year, I wanted to highlight something positive about the Church,” Jake said. “I met him [Father Schmitz] in 2004. He’s just been such an inspiration for so many kids and teenagers. So, I thought that would be an exciting pick this year.”

Jake, a marriage and family therapist, has carved both secular and religious figures, including Pope Francis (the “Papal Pumpkin”) in 2013, Brett Favre in 2009 and Batman, twice, in 2012 and 2016. Last year, staffers at the hit TV food series “Cake Boss” asked him to carve a pumpkin with the show’s logo for a new store opening at the Mall of America. He did three, and Shannon carved one of her own, which drew praise from the staffers of the show.

Jake doesn’t know what he’ll choose for next year’s design, but Shannon has a concept. She envisions carving a religious image she is fond of.

“I really want to do the Sacred Heart,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about that for a year.”

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