Bits 'n' Pieces: Woman carves out her niche

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian staff writer



Laura Poulsen's watermelon carving awards

• First place: Best Animal — Cheshire Cat.

• First place: Best Fruit Basket — Valentine's Bouquet.

• Second place: Funniest — Yoda.

See photos of all winning entries

What springs to mind when you think of watermelon? Family picnics? The heat of summer? Sweet succulent goodness?

Laura Poulsen sees a blank canvas.

The Fisher's Landing New Seasons Market deli service manager creates intricate food sculptures every Sunday to the delight of shoppers who have seen her transform produce — with only a knife, skewers and imagination — into carvings of Dr. Seuss characters, a rubber duck, Yoda and more.

"The whole store is very supportive of my quirky food art," said the Fircrest neighborhood resident.

She recently showcased her talent outside of the market, winning three awards in the National Watermelon Promotion Board's 2013 Carving Contest. Poulsen submitted photos of her creations on a whim a few months ago and was surprised to learn this month that she won $400 and awards in three categories: Best Animal, Best Fruit Basket and Funniest.

Poulsen has always had a creative spirit; she used to make teddy bears out of old fur coats. But it wasn't until she was hired at New Seasons in 2011 that she began playing with her food. "I've never done food carving before I came here."

She started small with humorous garnishes, but Poulsen soon shifted toward more complex carvings, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles created out of colorful tomatoes and peppers. She's also proud of the time she made a rabbit out of turnips and placed it inside an eggplant hat.

Sundays are kid-themed at New Seasons, and families often enjoy watching her work.

"I try to do a lot of things kids like," she said. "I look forward to my Sundays."

As she walks through the store and local farmers markets, Poulsen always keeps her eyes open for inspiration. She said her co-workers lend a hand by snatching up oddly shaped produce when they spot them.

"She's really awesome. Pick any topic, and she can figure out which kind of produce would look great," said Assistant Store Manager Michael Butterfield. "It gets a lot of laughs."

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