What requires 60 bales of straw, 10,000 feet of string, 200 neckties, 200 shirts, 200 pairs of pants, 100 pairs of panty hose, 100 belts, an assortment of yarn, buttons, wooden frames and nails, and two gallons of glue?
Those are the ingredients Mark Baron of Silver Spring needs for a a workshop in scarecrow design and construction. Wearing his trademark straw hat and red suspenders, Baron has been supervising such sessions since 1978.
During the workshops, as many as 100 participants sit on straw while they stuff, tie and glue together life-sized scarecrows. Baron, who bills himself as "the only living scarecrow artist," has seen more than 7,000 of the straw-stuffed creatures created in his workshops.
It can take from 30 minutes to several hours to make a scarecrow, depending on how detailed it becomes. The casual, walk-up workshops--held at schools, museums, festivals and shopping centers--generally last from four to six hours. Baron's fee varies, and is paid either by the sponsoring organization or by the participants. He trains volunteers shortly before each workshop begins, and they, in turn, supervise up to 20 participants each.
"It's instant art that can be explained in three minutes," says Baron.
But are his scarecrows works of art? Baron categorizes them as "three-dimensional, camouflaged sculptures in fabric and straw that are traditional rural folk art of individual design."
"There's no such thing as an artistically bad scarecrow," Baron claims. "The uglier it is, the better. Tall, short, funny or pretty, you can't lose." Scarecrows are often modeled after public figures as diverse as Dolly Parton and the late Moshe Dayan, or even after their makers' friends.
Halloween is the most popular day of the year for workshops, followed by May 1. Most of the workshops are held outdoors in grassy fields, according to Baron, but indoor classroom or gymnasium floors can be swept of extra straw in minutes.
One bale of straw, which costs about $3, yields four or five scarecrows, and Baron figures the cost for making a complete figure is $2.
When he ran a workshop at Hyattsville Elementary recently, each child brought 50 cents and an armful of old clothes. The youngsters, ranging from kindergarten to third grade, were delighted with the hay and some strayed from the task at hand to roll around the gymnasium floor in the straw. But with the help of their mothers and teachers, they produced scarecrows fine enough to grace any family's porch.
Baron conducts his workshops all over the nation, but lately he has concentrated on Maryland. He has scheduled a session this month at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, an institution for the criminally insane. His workshop will be part of the Inside Out Arts Project, an art therapy program for inmates. A New York filmmaker plans to make a documentary of the event to show how scarecrow art can be used as therapy, Baron said.
To prepare for workshops, Baron visits branches of the Salvation Army and Volunteers of America to buy boxes of ties, belts and old clothes at bulk-rate prices.
His instructions for making a scarecrow are simple: Knot the cuffs of pant legs and shirt-sleeves with string or yarn; rip holes in both the button and buttonhole sides of the shirt; lace string or rope through the holes and knot tightly. Stuff the pants and shirt with straw. Rip holes at the bottom of the shirt and the top of the pants, lace together with string and knot. For a head, stuff the panty hose--which Baron obtains by the thousand from a hosiery outlet in Pennsylvania--with straw and decorate with a face. Hats, ties and belts are optional.
"Everyone enjoys making a scarecrow. Adults like it more than kids, since they haven't done anything like it for years," he says. "It is something uncomplicated, clean and familiar--something you think you'd never make."