Pumpkin Picasso

updated 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE CELTS WERE THE FIRST TO carve scary faces out of root vegetables, but those designs were small potatoes compared to the fruits of Denver businessman John Bardeen's labors. His 10-year-old Pumpkin Masters Inc. raked in $7 million last year through sales of $5 carving-tool kits and pattern books. But Bardeen's claim to fame rests on his celebrity pusses, which have graced 80-plus Halloween TV shows.

This year, at $85 a pop, Bardeen, 51, and two others have carved the eerily faithful likenesses of Jerry Seinfeld, Brooke Shields and seven other stars for NBC. Fox has ordered 10, including a Jack Nicholson-o'-lantern. In years past, a favorite customer was Roseanne, who'd order Jack-o'-lanterns for her ABC series' Halloween episodes. "She's a really big fan of the holiday," says Bardeen.

The youngest of five children, the Racine, Wis., native was only 4 when his father taught him to carve. Now his own two teenage daughters and his wife, Kea, a lawyer and Pumpkin Masters' former CEO, share his technique of tracing a design taped to a pumpkin, then carving it with a small saw. Though his works, which can last up to 10 days with refrigeration, include replicas of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night, Bardeen's fave remains Tim Allen's Home Improvement neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman). "I carved him with fence posts hiding his face," says Bardeen, "just like on the show."

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