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Repurposing The Scarecrow: Art Reminiscing About Subsistence Past

English: : A scarecrow Español: : Un espantapá...

English: : A scarecrow Español: : Un espantapájaros (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weekend the dog and I are on our own. So, rather than staying home and playing it safe in our own backyard I thought a trip to the local “square” was in order for a little adventure.

It was fall arts and farmers market day with lots of interesting crafts (the dog got a new shirt), local produce and mom and pop baked goods. But the highlight of the walk was definitely the scarecrows.

Apparently every year different community groups and local businesses construct their own custom scarecrows and place them around the park in the center of this small, southern historic town to raise awareness for their respective offering and ultimately be judged for recognition in the local paper.

It got my Anthropological brain going (which is great because coming up with a blog topic to write about everyday is sometimes a challenge…especially on the weekends) and thinking about the cultural significance of the scarecrow and how this object who’s original function is basically obsolete remains as an object of folk art.

I suppose this is the path some outdated tools of trades take if they are not relegated to collectible antique status to decorate or homes. But the scarecrow is a fairly unique tradition because of the temporal nature of Its original use: to ward off crowd and other scavenging birds from the cornfields before fall harvesting could begin. The theory put in practice was that if the birds thought there was a human around that could harm them they would stay out of the fields. So, farmers would use he resources available to them, mainly hay / straw, old fence posts and farm implements, torn clothes and leftover fabric to create an aggressive (usually arms held out or into the air) looking human-like state to put amongst the corn and other crops. An the investment in construction remained fairly low because they were meant to be temporary structures. You don’t want one of those things spontaneously combusting in the summer heat and destroying he farm by wildfire or getting soaked through from the snow and rotting in the middle of the place where you grow food.

We have since developed better technology (chemical or otherwise ) to ward if scavengers and parasites an the like…and while I am certain you will still find scarecrows in some rural towns on smaller farms the truth is that these anthropomorphic sculptures are nowadays used more for whimsy than risk management.

But the scarecrow also serves as a demonstration of creativity, which in a suburban landscape where one has their basic subsistence more than taken care of is a self-actualization exercise that occupies the upper parts of the hierarchy of needs pyramid. But the other part of self actualization beyond creativity is finding an authentic connection with your roots that helps give meaning to your existence.

So the scarecrow (while far less scary than actual humans) remains a fond fall community and folk art tradition that engages the young and entrpreneurial at heart in a display if culture’s past and adapts it to a more modern ideal of “keepin’ it real”.

Here are some pictures from today’s adventure for your enjoyment of the context from whence today’s musings came (and even more scary is the dog with her non-camera friendly eyes in her new fall fashion..because I know you’re curious):

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Categories: Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, pop culture, Rituals, southern culture, Suburban Living | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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