Ray Villafane, visionary and patriarch of the Villafane Studios Sculpting Family was born in Queens, New York to Reinaldo Villafane and Virginia (Guzman) Villafane. He spent his childhood on Long Island and was raised alongside two sisters and one brother. At a very young age Ray showed a knack for art; a passion that his mother approvingly encouraged him to pursue. Throughout his academic career, Ray’s classmates and teachers also recognized his natural artistic abilities.
Ray graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1991. However, also having a passion for children, he elected for a career in teaching. From 1993 to 2006 Ray taught Art for students grade K-12 in Bellaire, Michigan. It was during his teaching tenure that Ray began “dabbling” in pumpkin sculpting, initially as projects with his students. After several custom-carved requests from students’ parents, Ray realized he was on to something with his pumpkins and started offering them to local hotels and restaurants. It became his fall hobby for several years.
In 2003, Ray married Tamara Schmidt. While Ray and Tammi’s union gave rise to a blended family, they also had children together. It was during this time that Ray was encouraged by his wife to find an art medium he really enjoyed and run with it; they could use his obvious talent to supplement their income and support their large family. Ray decided to contact a former SVA classmate whom he had thought to be working for Disney as an Animator. Upon speaking, he learned that the friend was actually sculpting for Disney. Having really sparked Ray’s interest, he flew to New York to spend a weekend observing his colleague in action. That weekend clarified for Ray exactly what he wanted to do; he went home and started sculpting his first piece.
Ray’s first “practice” sculpture actually became his first professional sculpture. In 2004, Ray was sculpting a Logan version of the X-Men character, Wolverine. He researched online sculpting forums for tips and posted his work-in-progress, requesting feedback from other sculptors. His piece caught the attention of popular sculpting icon Randy Bowen of Bowen Designs. Bowen contacted Ray and offered to produce the statue. Between 2004 and 2005, Ray went on to sculpt several statues for Bowen Designs, including such Marvel characters as Sabretooth, Magneto (the companion piece to his Logan) and The Punisher. After undertaking a commissioned piece for the collectibles division of DC Comics, DC Direct, Ray was offered a two-year exclusive contract with DC in 2006. He renewed the contract in 2008 for another two years. Within a year of trying his hand at sculpting he had gained notable clients such as Warner Bros./DC Comics, Marvel, McFarlane Toys, Hasbro and Sideshow Collectibles.
Ray’s hobby of pumpkin sculpting was brought to an entirely new level in 2007 when he was contacted by High Noon Entertainment and asked to participate in the Food Network’s Challenge Show, Outrageous Pumpkins. Ray competed as one of four professional pumpkin sculptors, impressed the judges enough to sweep all three rounds and was awarded the Grand Prize. Outrageous Pumpkins logged the highest ratings of any other Challenge episode, and a second invitation was extended to Ray in 2009. They wanted him to come back and defend his title in their Outrageous Pumpkins Challenge II. Ray defended his 2008 title and took home the 2010 Grand Prize from the Food Network’s Pumpkin Challenge II.
The exposure of Ray’s style, talent and creativity amassed an all-new appreciation for pumpkin carving, and his artistic take on the traditional jack-o-lantern has granted him invitations from across the globe for VIP Galleries (Very Impressive Pumpkins). From the President’s quarters in the White House to Bermuda’s Sousa’s Gardens, Ray’s pumpkins have gathered a cult-like following.
After seeing him compete on the first of the Food Network’s Pumpkin Challenge Shows, Ray was contacted by a professional sand sculpting company and invited to Jesolo, Italy. He was to participate in their annual holiday sand sculpting project. Though Ray had never sculpted in sand, he took the opportunity that was offered. In November 2008, Ray traveled to Jesolo and created his first sand sculptures. His performance was exceptional, and he was invited back the following summer where he participated in bringing “Dante’s Inferno” to the beach. He was given the most pivotal sculpture of the show, and his effort did not disappoint. A trip to Russia followed, where Ray sandsculpted just blocks away from Red Square and the Kremlin. It was commissioned by Cathedral of Christ our Saviour, one of Moscows largest Cathedrals.
You can find Ray on Facebook where fans have fondly nicknamed themselves “Villa-fans”.