Every October, Cambrians and visitors marvel at the creativity and skill of the craftspeople who fashion amazing sculptures for the Cambria Scarecrow Festival.
Those artisans often use little more than fabric, wood, PVC pipe, papier-mâché, tenacity and inspiration.
Many, such as Terry Camp of Cambria, have never before done anything even remotely similar.
“I’ve always wanted to make a scarecrow for this festival,” he said in an April interview, “but I never had the nerve.”
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He also had no idea how to make a scarecrow.
When Camp began fashioning his sculpture this spring, he was inspired by the death of a much-loved Southwest African lion in Zimbabwe. The shooting of “Cecil the Lion” by an American recreational hunter in July 2015 sparked worldwide outrage from a vast swath of people — from animal conservationists and politicians to celebrities and ordinary people.
Cecil, with his black-fringed mane, had been the best-known animal in Hwange National Park. Before his death, he had been tracked by scientists since 2008.
Camp chose to funnel his feelings about Cecil’s death into a memorial to the massive lion that had been such an attraction for so many.
“I wanted to remind everybody how nice some of the things in nature are.”
The artist’s first hurdle was in figuring out how to craft the beast.
“It must have been 30 years since I even made a model airplane,” Camp said, let alone doing a very large sculpture out of everyday materials.
Camp said his first thoughts were “about Richard Dreyfuss in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ ” and the iconic scene in which the lineman and inadvertent UFO researcher tries to re-create Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower inside his home, first with mashed potatoes and then much larger, with junk, twigs, weeds and mud.
Camp began his sculpture with sketches, diagrams and tentative measurements, all the while mumbling to himself about whether “I could still draw after 30 or more years? Maybe.”
Camp said he consulted with other scarecrow sculptors, but eventually determined that Cecil’s foundation would be a really tricky part.
“There are no balloons, trash cans or neighbors’ chicken wire that present the shapes I needed,” he said.
The sculpture has a 6-by-2.5-foot plywood base. Supports for the neck and spine are secured by angled shelf brackets, and the image is widened with riblike cardboard cutouts.
Camp then covered the body area with chicken wire padded with more cardboard, then shaped and smoothed it with papier-mâché mash.
The heavy, full-dimension head is filled with newspaper and cardboard, then covered in gesso.
“I bought the eyes from a taxidermy outlet” so they would look realistic, he said.
The mane problem
Another puzzle was how to best represent the lion’s huge mane.
A professional papier-mâché artist advised Camp to “buy a bunch of wigs and string them together,” to get the correct texture and flow. But the potential cost was daunting — along with all those comb-outs.
This project comes in stages. At each stage, I am more amazed at the enormous size of this animal and my own poor attempts to put forward the great character of this creature.
For now, Camp said he anticipates creating the mane in papier-mâché and then “carving into the material to make it look like a lion king mane. This is part of the torment. I want it to look good, want to do the tribute. But I realize there are some limitations.”
He described the creative process so far.
“This project comes in stages. At each stage, I am more amazed at the enormous size of this animal and my own poor attempts to put forward the great character of this creature,” he said. The scarecrow “is going to be simple. It’s going to be nonprofessional.”
The Camps said they want to inspire others to make their own scarecrows.
To build your own scarecrow
The deadline to register for the free “Make it in a Day Scarecrow Workshop” is June 1.
The workshop will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, at the Cambria Grammar School multipurpose room, 3223 Main St. Residents of Cambria, San Simeon and Harmony are welcome but must preregister. Techniques to be taught are billed as “super fast and easy, with no papier-mâché,” according to a flier about the workshop. No charge, but donations are accepted.
Participants should bring a sack lunch. Register at 2016cambriascarecrows@ gmail.com or by calling 805-395-2399.