When it comes to the Cambria Scarecrow Festival, you can talk about the tourism dollars it attracts (it does) and the visibility it brings to Cambria (it does that, too), but for my money, the most exciting aspect of the annual event is its impact on the community’s young people.
Halloween’s always been a season for the young and young at heart, and the Scarecrow Festival provides the perfect prelude to the season of costumed capers.
Those who don’t dress up themselves — and even those who do — can take part in the fun by dressing up a scarecrow. And it’s not just fun; it’s a learning experience.
Coast Unified art instructor Suzette Morrow has made the scarecrows a regular part of her curriculum as a lesson in both artistic expression and business.
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“Each student in the 3-D art class creates a scarecrow for a business in Cambria, San Simeon and this year, Harmony. We began them on the first day of school. … Basically, we complete them in a month,” Morrow said, adding that this year’s student crop numbers 30 scarecrows in all, each completed in a month’s time.
Students are eager to get into Morrow’s 3-D art class, and the scarecrows are a big draw.
They see the process through from start to finish, and their creations must survive a “shake test” from Morrow: If anything falls off, the grade drops. If the students fail to complete their projects, they receive failing grades, just as they would in the real world if they failed to produce products for a paying customer.
It’s quite a challenge for some students who’ve never used tools or made anything before, and problem-solving is a big component of the process.
The good news is that the students aren’t on their own during the process. They get help at the outset from Morrow, who continues as their “guide on the side” throughout the process. They also receive direction from businesses, which submit requests for particular scarecrows they want used in front of their establishments.
Other North Coast residents help out, too.
“The community members that make up the Scarecrow Committee help with some of the materials such as wooden stands (Sharkey Warwick), recycled plastic wrap (Taylor Hilden) from San Luis Paper Co. for stuffing, and props (Michele Sherman) for us,” Morrow explained.
“We create the heads from paper mâché, and some scarecrows also get paper mâché hands. This year, we have a giant tree and life-size Minions, among other very unique creations. The students have worked very hard on bringing the scarecrow ideas to fruition.”
(For the uninitiated, the Minions made their debut in the animated film “Despicable Me,” reappeared in a sequel and even got a film of their own this year.)
The students have been making scarecrows in class for five years now. With about 300 on display this year, their work accounts for about 10 percent of the total.
Initially, Morrow said, they were placed in open lots between businesses; the businesses themselves began sponsoring scarecrows the following year, after the Booster Club funded a ceramics lab with a kiln and other equipment at Coast Union High School.
With the lab in place, however, Morrow needed money to pay for the clay and glazes to be used in the ceramics program. That need created the foundation for the businesses to get involved.
“So Taylor and Sue Robinson supported us in getting businesses to rent the scarecrows to help fund the art program at Coast Union High School,” Morrow said. “The rental and storage of them has really grown to help fund the art program, thanks to all the people that help with all the logistics.”
The extent of the community’s involvement has grown over time and makes the event a great example of how Cambria and the North Coast supports the education of its young people.
The Cookie Crock, for example, lent the school a truck to deliver the scarecrows to their appointed destinations, and Alex de Alba — a former scarecrow creator and CUHS grad — volunteered to help stake them down. Last year, Morrow recalled, she had a problem getting the horse trailer she’d borrowed in previous years to deliver them, and Scarecrow Committee member Hilden “had people rolling up with vans, trucks and cars to the art room in minutes.”
“I think it is similar to a parade where more people are in it than watch it,” she said. “The number of people that make the Scarecrow Festival happen in Cambria may outnumber those that do not participate.”
You can see the results on the streets of Cambria, San Simeon and Harmony this month. The student-made scarecrows are the result of a lot of hard work: no tricks, but the results are quite a treat.