Piles of pantyhose, pounds of neckties and mounds of old clothes are waiting in the wings. Center stage sit 25 bales of hay. Presiding over it all is Mark Baron, whose red-and-white-check shirt proclaims him: World's Only Living Scarecrow Artist.
"I buy the pantyhose from a mill in Pennsylvania and I get the ties by the pound at Amvets. I found some good thrift shops in Silver Spring for the clothes," says Baron, who developed the scarecrow program for National Children's Island, an idea whose time never came. Now, Baron -- with 7,000 scarecrows already under his belt -- has a full-time job conducting workshops at parks, schools, shopping centers, wherever. Last week the scarecrow factory was at Watkins Regional Park in Prince Georges County, and families flocked to try their creative skills with straw, string and old clothes.
"Stick as much straw in there as you can, make it real rigid," Baron advised nine-year- old Kevin Loftus, who picked a red-and- white-striped polyester shirt from the pile. His five-year-old sister Joanne stuffed straw into a pair of jeans that her mother had tied at the leg bottoms with string. When both the upper and lower body were properly stuffed, Baron helped put the parts together: He poked scissor holes in the backs and fronts of both shirt and pants and tied string through the holes.
"You might want to have some straw sticking out for that straw effect," suggested Baron, artfully pulling some straw from between the shirt buttons for an effect that was more evocative of stomach flab.
"They named it after their Uncle Stan," said Kevin and Joanne's mother, who was stuffing the trunks of some pantyhose to make Stan's head. The legs of the pantyhose are tied and stuffed into the trunks first -- unless you want a scarecrow with pigtails. Then the features are cut from scraps of cloth and glued onto the face.
"This is my eye dress," said Baron, showing the Loftus family a polyester dress whose black and pink polka dots made excellent eyes. Baron, who describes his artistry as "self-taught" learned to make scarecrows by "sitting around for a long time thinking and brainstorming." He didn't study farmers' scarecrows because "utilitarian scarecrows are very basic -- a Clorox bottle on a broom handle." What farmer ever cared enough to cut out pink-and-black polyester eyes?
While some families favor an asssembly- line approach, other families allow each member to do his own thing. The Burkes -- Ronnie, 11, Dawn, 12, Tina, 3, and David, 8 -- each made their own scarecrow, ranging in size from babies to adults.
"Keep stuffing -- that's the order of the day, just like a turkey," Baron told them.
"I'm going to be itching for a week," complained David, knee-deep in basic raw material.
Other kids enjoyed romping and rolling in the straw. An entire Cub Scout den from Bowie wrestled in the yellow stuff while their leaders, Barbara Zukowski and Jane Wentlang, worked on the scarecrow that each boy would get to take home for a week.
Scarecrow types vary from rednecks to preppies, according to the clothing selected. Along with the polyester discards, there were silk Christian Dior ties, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, even a three-piece suit. Nine- year-old Amy Esser and her 16-year-old sister Lisa dressed theirs in a camel-hair jacket and a rep tie.
"You almost should have kept that sportcoat," said their mother. "It might have fit your brother."
There was yarn for hair, but if you wanted thicker manes you could find fur from the cuff of a dress, which also made a splendid mustache for one scarecrow.
"We're going to find a hat for him when we get home," said Mary Ann Loftus as she attached Stan to a wood frame and tried to lure Kevin and Joanne toward the car.
"But I'm going to make a lady," said Kevin, stuffing straw into a dress.
Most families plan to put their scarecrows on their front porches, maybe with a pumpkin, until Halloween. But 10-year-old Christy Kowalewski hoped for a long-term relationship.
"Can we keep him forever?" she pleaded.
For 12-year-old Steve Zafiropulos and his friends, the short-term problem was more pressing.
"We're going to look awful funny going home riding these scarecrows on our bikes," said Steve.
Here are some future scarecrow workshops that Mark Baron will conduct:
OCTOBER 9, 12 to 5, Montgomery College's Germantown campus. Fee of $2.50 per scarecrow includes materials.
OCTOBER 17, 9 to 12, Baltimore Farmers Market, Pratt and Water streets. Free, materials supplied.
OCTOBER 23, 12:30 to 4, Bethesda Community Center. Call 468-4206 to pre-register.
OCTOBER 24, 1 to 3, Deerfield Run Community Center, Laurel. Free. Bring pants, shirt, panty hose and necktie.
OCTOBER 27, 7 to 9, Tobytown Community Center. Pre-register by calling 926-1299.
OCTOBER 28, 6:30 to 9, Scotland Community Center, Potomac. Pre-register by calling 299-8115.
TO SCHEDULE A WORKSHOP
Call Baron at 498-4140. Be prepared for a tape of "If I Only Had a Brain" from "The Wizard of Oz.""