Stuffed with personality
No crow would dare land at the LaMarche place in the hills north of Yamhill.
A platoon of scarecrows guards the yard and garden. “I’m building my scarecrow army,” Art LaMarche joked.
Art and his 14-year-old daughter, Alex, have created the man-size sculptures over the years for the Yamhill County Fair’s annual scarecrow contest.
They’re currently at work on this year’s entries.
What the 2013 scarecrows will look like is still a secret, and it will remain so until the fair opens July 31, though. “You’ll just have to come see them then,” Art said.
Art and his wife, Leann, moved to their property with their daughter in 2007, four years after Art retired from a career in the Navy.
The following year, he and Alex were looking through the Yamhill County Fair book, which describes the various contests and categories, and they spotted a scarecrow contest in the horticulture section. “Well, that sounded fun,” Art said.
He’s a man who finds fun and creative inspiration in things other people might overlook. For instance, he got excited when he spotted an ad for a pink toilet on Craig’s List.
“He had to have the pink toilet!” his wife said, gently mocking. It now sits proudly in its own little room alongside their long driveway, marked by a sign announcing, “Guest Bathroom.”
But he’d never created a scarecrow.
When he and his daughter started their first scarecrow project, they looked through recyclables and rounded up objects from his workshop.
Noticing a shape vaguely reminiscent of a human head, Art picked up an empty milk jug. It soon became Jug Head, complete with coveralls and rubber gloves.
Alex picked up a jug and tipped it on its side. It reminded her of a horse’s head, so she created Misty, a pony with a barrel-shaped torso and legs made from pop cans and miniature jugs. She wrote a poem about horses to go with her entry.
“Who said a scarecrow had to be a human?” Alex asked.
Their subsequent scarecrows have been inspired by an upturned bucket (Buck T. Head, which won Art a “Most Creative” award in 2011); garden implements (Rusty Spade, Alex’s “Best Story” winner in 2012, and Shovel Head); fishing floats (“Buoy Bobb,” who wears a life jacket); and knotted rope (“Knot Head,” for which Art won “Most Creative Use of Materials”).
Alex also built Gilda, a witch scarecrow inspired by “The Wizard of Oz.” Unfortunately, Alex said, Gilda the Garden Witch is just a memory now, as her prom dress didn’t survive the wind and weather after she retired to the farm.
The other scarecrows are still standing strong, albeit a bit faded and, here and there, a bit chewed. They’re a permanent part of the farm, along with the chickens, geese, goats and other animals.
“Our scarecrows go to work,” Alex said, explaining, “We’re trying to keep the coyotes off.”
With the exception of Misty, the scarecrows are man-sized. The fair rules don’t specify size, except to say scarecrows must be at least 2 feet tall. But why make something in miniature, Art thought. “I say, go big or don’t go at all,” he said.
He built a wooden frame as a prototype, then switched to making his scarecrow skeletons from PVC pipe. The light-weight pipes provide good structure and allow maximum flexibility, he said. By using short pieces connected with wires, he can articulate the limbs and pose the finished scarecrows in various ways.
Last week, for instance, the LaMarches turned Jug Head into a greeter. The scarecrow stood on the road at the end of their driveway, one long arm pointing the way to their house.
Scarecrow making is a creative outlet and a way to have fun, Art said.
“I’m not an artist. I just fiddle in my shop,” he said.
In addition to making things, he draws Celtic knots. The symbols remind him a little of the ropes and knots he used in the Navy.
“I worked with knots then. Now it’s a hobby,” he said.
He had enjoyed drawing as a child. “But I gave it up when girls came into the picture,” he said.
Art was born in Maine. His father was in the Air Force, so he grew up in assorted places, including Germany and various parts of the U.S.
His first came to Oregon on one of the Navy ships that docked at the Rose Festival in 1988. Leann, a Dundee native, was volunteering as a Rose Festival Fleet hostess.
They hit it off right away and married the following year.
Twenty-five years later, one of the family’s favorite activities is going to the fair. The LaMarches attend not only the Yamhill County Fair, but also the the Oregon State Fair, the Washington County Fair and sometimes the Clackamas County Fair.
“Fair season is a fun one for us,” Art said. “It’s like our vacation.”
Vacation, yes, but not necessarily a restful one. They enter all sorts of items in the open class categories, from poetry to pictures to produce, in addition to scarecrows.
Entering requires two trips to the fairgrounds, since some categories are entered several days in advance and more delicate items, such as flowers, are entered right before the fair opens. Then it’s back to the fairgrounds to enjoy the fair itself, ride rides and view animals.
Afterwards, back they go again to pick up the entries and the prizes they’ve won. And you can double all that driving, as they enter both the Yamhill and Washington county fairs.
This is the first year the Washington County Fair will have a scarecrow contest. The LaMarches plan to enter different scarecrows in both.
The first time they entered the Yamhill County Fair’s contest, Alex said she wasn’t sure what would happen. She was surprised and pleased to find ribbons on her scarecrow, as well as many of her other entries.
Now she and her dad take winning in stride. In fact, Art jokes he had “CWD,” compulsive winning disorder, and he’s passed it on to his daughter.
“I call myself the Scarecrow King,” Art said.
“I’m trying to dethrone him,” quipped Alex. “I’m trying to beat Dad.
“I never have. Yet.”
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.