October 11, 2010

The Power of Scarecrows

This Humpty Dumpty scarecrow scored third place for creator Marion Hazelton
 in the Chester Community Scarecrow Competition. 

Union Leader Correspondent
ommunity spirit is not always a tangible thing. But something about the dozens of scarecrows adorning lawns along Chester’s main
 drag has notably lifted the collective community spirit here by several degrees, and changed this town for the better.
“My plan was to make about 50 of them. The first 25 were sold to people
 who live along the main streets, so they’d be visible,” said Jackie Brown, the brains behind operation scarecrow. 
“As soon as they started going up, people were telling friends and calls were coming in — we sold out before the town fair on Sept. 11. We’re already taking orders for next year,” said Brown, as excited as she was exhausted by the success of the simple fundraising idea that has become so much more. 
Community scarecrow creation competitions are not unique — Glen, Bartlett, Intervale, Hart’s Location and Jackson have their “Pumpkin People”; Portsmouth, Jaffrey, Milford, New Boston and communities in North Conway and along the Seacoast also have taken to celebrating scarecrow season with contests. 
Chester’s scarecrow fever was only meant as a quick-hit money-maker to benefit the town’s historic society, said Brown, who was inspired after being smitten with the scarecrows she saw as she drove through Grantham last fall. She figures about 60 scarecrows were purchased, bringing in a profit of about $500. 
She has spent the past year working out the details, sort of like Dr. Frankenstein meets the Wizard of Oz. 
“We spent a lot of time testing various materials to see what would work,” said Brown. She eventually settled on painted burlap stuffed with plastic shopping bags filled with wads of newspaper. Her husband, Donald, got busy making wooden cross frames. 
While the faces all have a familiar look, it is the way people have chosen to individualize the scarecrows that has really brought out the best in this community of about 4,600. 
“Every single scarecrow tells a story,” said Brown, who found herself driving around town daily, surveying the landscape for new figures — like the pair of scarecrows next to Gladys Nichols’ mailbox: The display represents the bonds of friendship between Nichols — the town’s current Boston Post Cane holder — and her acrossthe- street neighbor, who meet at the mailbox daily to shoot the breeze. 
Andrew and Becky Hadik made five figures — one for each member of the family of four, including their two kids, and one wide-eyed and wooly hypothetical dog. 
“It’s the dog we’ll never have, because we’re allergic,” said Becky Hadik. “I call him Rex. In a weird way it’s really nice to see the whole family together with a dog.” 
Barbara Rice created a shepherd scarecrow sitting near a flock of black-faced sheep. 
“We always raised sheep on this farm, for 40 years,” said Rice. “We had to give them up, but now, with this scarecrow thing, they’re back. My husband asked me what the heck I was doing this for. I told him I had no idea, but it was absolutely wonderful. It’s never been done in town, but I love it.” 
Lucinda Borrone won top prize among residential scarecrows for her pair of ballet dancers, decked out in bejeweled pink and brocade “Sugar Plum Fairy” costumes. 
“The story behind my scarecrows is that going to see ‘The Nutcracker’ in Boston was where my husband and I went on our first date. In 30 years, we’ve never missed a performance,” said Borrone, who applied her skills as a professional costume designer to win the judges over.  There was plenty of whimsy.
Lucinda Borrone, left in doorway, talks with Jackie Brown
 about her entry, which won first place for residential entries.
Kathi Camillieri, left, works with her daughter, Sarah St. Jean, to design
 their entry for the scarecrow contest, a tribute to their love of quilting. 

Edwards Mill Cabinetry featured a saw-wielding carpenter with a bloody severed hand; Marion Hazelton created a cigar-smoking Humpty Dumpty sitting on her stone wall; the fire department’s scarecrow was in full gear and ready for action; a bride and groom scarecrow couple were stationed outside the church; a mailman scarecrow with dogs hanging off his pants was on display outside the Post Office. 
Although residents and businesses were asked to have their scarecrows in place by 
October 1, people were constructing and dressing and stuffing and propping figures right up until Saturday morning, which was judgment day. 
For Kathi Camillieri, it wasn’t about winning. Just having the opportunity to create a quilting scarecrow with her daughter and grandkids was priceless. 
“By the time I called to get a scarecrow it was too late,” said Camillieri, who is battling cancer. She mentioned to a friend that she wanted to be on the waiting list for next year, but wanted to put the order in her daughter’s name. 
“I just didn’t know if I’d be around next year,” said Camillieri. 
Her friend, Deb Crabb, mentioned Camillieri’s request to Billie Mahoney, who had purchased four of the scarecrows. 
She immediately turned one over to Camillieri. “I was so touched. I knew as soon as I saw them that I wanted to make one, and I knew it was going to be a quilting grandmother. Together we’ve made literally hundreds of quilts,” said Camillieri, colorful blankets that have been donated to children’s hospitals in Guatemala. “I can’t explain it, but from the first time I saw the scarecrows, it just made me smile. 
Complete strangers will stop to take pictures or just look at them, responding to this little bit of joy sitting on people’s lawns,” Camillieri said. 
When Brown heard that particular story, she was moved, but not surprised. “That’s just how it is in Chester. I love this town,” Brown said. 
“It’s all people are talking about — it brought the whole town together. I’ve literally had hundreds of phone calls,” Brown said. “In the back of my mind, I wondered if it would put Chester on the map, and I believe it has.” 

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