Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard

The Great Pumpkin King

Most of us commonfolk take a classic approach to pumpkin carving: some triangular eyes, a bucktoothed grin, and (if you’re feeling especially creative) another triangle for the nose.

Boom. You’re finished.

But then there’s always someone nearby who has to show you up with a precise rendition of Spiderman or Jack Skellington.

Meet Titus Arensberg, Master Pumpkin Carver.

Arensberg always viewed himself as artistic, but he didn’t find his craft until his early ’20s. Eleven years ago he carved a Dora the Explorer pumpkin for his daughter, and a light switched on.

“In hindsight it really sucked, but everyone thought it was cool,” he said. “And I just kept going from there.”

Soon after, Arensberg started a two-year apprenticeship at Rock on Ice, housed in Sunbury, where he learned three-dimensional ice sculpture from Greg Butauski, one of the world’s preeminent ice carvers. He jokes that Butauski can’t get rid of him—until recently, Arensberg divided his weekly schedule between 60-plus hours of cooking at the Granville Inn and 30-plus hours of carving at Rock on Ice. In addition, he’s practiced sculpting pumpkins and other produce in his free time, extending the ice sculpture techniques he learned from Butauski to new mediums. After 13 years in the kitchen, he recently quit his job as a sous chef to to go full-gourd.

“I don’t consider myself the most talented—I’ve worked harder than anybody
else. There’s just some artists out there that are naturally gifted and that’s amazing, but I’m not afraid to work hard and try to catch up.”

Arensberg describes himself as a “dropout engineer” because he started college as an engineering student, and his carving style reflects his analytical side.

“I break pieces down and put them back together like Legos. It’s not really your traditional carving style,” he said.

His “production carving” approach takes quality and quantity into equal account.

“I’m not going to spend three hours on a pumpkin,” he said. “My work’s not going to get any better after 20 minutes, so I’m going to go out and carve 100 pumpkins for you, instead of one.”

Arensberg geeks on the grandiose, too. Once a year, he and Butauski collaborate with Dean Murray to create large displays that decorate the Milwaukee Zoo.

“It’s amazing because we’ll start with one stupid idea and we’ll bounce it around. Somebody adds this, somebody adds this. And we think our best work actually comes when we can collaborate in groups of two or three because that way, all of the ideas are flowing, and it’s just—it’s just better that way.  Not always contest-wise, but for fun we would actually prefer to carve together,” he said.

Arensberg possesses the excitement of an overgrown kid and the self-awareness of an artist. He has fun with his carvings, but he deeply admires the work of other professionals and constantly strives for improvement.

“I don’t consider myself the most talented—I’ve worked harder than anybody else,” he said. “I’ll just keep trying and trying and work to get better at it. There’s just some artists out there that are naturally gifted and that’s amazing, but I’m not afraid to work hard and try to catch up,” he said.

Carving competitions allow Arensberg to gauge his progress and learn from other carvers. He took home the blue ribbon at the Ohio State Fair food sculpting competition three years in a row. This will be his fourth year competing in the Jack Hanna carving competition at the Columbus Zoo. The Jack Hanna competition invites only the top 10 pumpkin carvers, most of whom have been featured on the Food Network. Every year that the competition invites Titus back he feels honored to be included in the selection. He considers himself a young guy in the business, still proving himself.

But Arensberg won’t be able to cling to his rookie status for long. Just this May, he flew to L.A. for a Food Network related event. His produce carving will be featured on a few episodes of a new show. He couldn’t reveal more, but you can expect to see his carving featured on the channel sometime this winter.

“Any time somebody feels my work is good enough to use for their event and stuff, that’s awesome,” he said. “If it weren’t for carving, I never would have left Central Ohio. I’ve been to L.A., to Germany, all over the map.”

Carving has expanded his world, but his Ohio roots shape his day to day life. He offers lessons at his alma mater, Columbus State, where he guides potential carvers. His sense of purpose stems at least partially from his drive to give back to his community, and at the end of the day, he values his ability to do such unique, creative work.

“I’m just like a giant kid, so if I’m allowed to create and play and handle my food with my hands, that’s all I need.”

To keep up with his creations, follow Arensberg on Instagram @titusarensberg.

By Lindsey McHenry