You can't be a doll designer or doll pattern designer and not have one, two, three, four or more scarecrow dolls. They can be primitive, classic, scary, well-dressed, tattered, large or small bodied, cheerful, scary, etc. It doesn't matter. They're a staple of every crafter. Why is that? Why are we so enthralled with them? I'm not sure, but I'd like to find out.
That got to me thinking about scarecrows and their history. Oh, boy! Another research project. For all my blog readers you know how I HATE research projects!
The definition of a scarecrow is 1) an object for scaring birds away (i.e. an object in the shape of a person dressed in old clothes, set up in a field to scare birds away), 2) a poorly dressed person (i.e. somebody who wears ragged clothes) , and 3) something frightening, but not dangerous.
They say that farmers have been making scarecrows for more than 3,000 years with the earliest know written fact being written in 1592. In the 1700's the farmers in the American colonies needed more and more grain. The farmers decided that neither they nor the scarecrows were sufficiently protecting the crops so the towns started to offer bounties for dead crows. Well, things went too far (which is what usually happens) and so many crows were killed that in the 1800's the colonies had a severe problem with an over population of worms and insects that had previously been eaten by the crows. The worms and insects were destroying more crops than the crows had (that figures). So the farmers took to making scarecrows again.
While they have traditionally been known as scarecrows they have had several names and have taken on several forms. In Pennsylvania the German farmers built human looking scarecrows called "bootzamon" or bogeyman. The "Bootzamon's" body was a wooden cross and his head was a broom, mop top, or piece of cloth stuffed with straw. He usually wore old overalls, shirt, straw hat, and red handkerchief around his neck. Sometimes more than one was built (everybody needs a little company, even scarecrows). The German farmers even had a "bootzafrau" or bogeywife. After all, every scarecrow needs a partner, don't they? The "bootzafrau" was usually dressed in a long dress or coat, wearing a hat or sunbonnet, and was placed in the opposite end of the field. So, you had a "bootzamon" on one end and a "bootzafrau" on the other end. Wonder which one really wore the pants in that family!
During the Middle Ages the German farmers made wooden witches and put them in the fields at the end of the winter. They believed that the witches would draw the evil spirit of winter into their bodies (which is why they were so ugly) so spring would come.
In Egypt, scarecrows were used to protect the fields along the Nile River from quail. The farmers would put wooden frames up with nets and would hide in the fields to scare the quail in to the nets. Once captured they, of course, would take them home and eat them.
They say that in Greece 2,500 years ago that wooden scarecrows were made to look like Priapus, the son of the god Dionysus and the goddess Aphrodite. According to legend Priapus lived with vineyard keepers and was very ugly. When he played in the fields he was so ugly the birds were frightened away. Maybe it's me, but if Priapus was the son of Aphrodite (wasn't she the goddess of love and beauty) I would think the crows would have flocked to him.
Japanese farmers hung old rags, meat, fish bones, etc. from bamboo poles in their rice fields. They named their scarecrows "kakashis" which means smells badly because they would set the sticks on fire and the smell was so bad that it drove the birds away. Of course, it probably drove the neighbors away, but that's a different story.
In Medieval Britain the scarecrows known as "bird shooers" were live boys 9 years old or older. I bet you're thinking I'm going to tell you that they were tied to the wooden crosses and hung in the fields. The young boys patrolled the fields carrying bags of stones which they would throw at the birds to chase them away. After the Great Plague in 1348, when approximately half the population was killed, the farmers started to stuff sacks with straw and hung these in the fields as there were not enough little boys around to scare the birds away. They would stuff the sacks with straw and make carved heads out of gourds.
Most of the Native American Indian scarecrows were adult men. They would sit on raised platforms and would howl and shout at the crows if they came near the corn. Creek Indian families actually moved into huts within the corn fields during the growing season to protect the crops from birds and other prey. In New York, the Seneca Indians soaked their corn seeds in a poisonous herb mixture that would make the crows fly around like crazy and scare the other birds away. It's been reported that one of the scarecrows used by the Navajo took the form of a teddy bear, which was hung from the top of a pole. That's a new one for me. A teddy bear as a scarecrow. You'd think the crows would want to cuddle the bear not fly away from it. Could be a new doll line. Hmmm.
In any event, the scarecrow has clearly been around a very long time and clearly has taken many forms. Whether you believe in the tradition or not scarecrows are loved by artists, crafters, writers, and children the world over. For doll designers and crafters we just can't have enough of them. I know, I can't.
For crafters it really doesn't matter whether you are a crafter of primitive crafts, Victorian crafts, country crafts, etc. No matter what type of crafter or designer you are we all still have one thing in common: we are all still in love with scarecrows. I know I am and I suspect you are as well.
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