Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria collaborators put mariachi scarecrow idea in motion

Ramona Voge and Ramona Sheppard won first place in the adult animation category at the Cambria Scarecrow Festival for this scarecrow ensemble at Creekside Gardens in Cambria's East Village.
Ramona Voge and Ramona Sheppard won first place in the adult animation category at the Cambria Scarecrow Festival for this scarecrow ensemble at Creekside Gardens in Cambria's East Village. Special to The Cambrian

That ubiquitous clicking sound heard on sidewalks and near storefronts in Cambria has become as closely linked to October as fingers are to hands. The clicking occurs as throngs of fascinated visitors aim smartphones and iPads — some wield Canons and Nikons — at the wildly ingenious creations scattered throughout the community.

The clicking is near-constant next to Rabobank as a scarecrow marching band attracts tourists like honeybees to clover. Clicking is the daylong reality near the Santa Rosa Catholic Church as a steady stream of visitors exit their autos and peer through lenses while the gaggle of singing nuns — and a priest — are always fully cooperative, whether “selfies” or group photos are on the agenda.

The long-ago famous Addams Family, realistically posing at the base of Park Hill — Cambridge and Nottingham — is largely unseen compared with the downtown characters. Hence, I offered a few clicks out of sympathy, boosting the family’s morale (they seemed grim). A nearby tin man smiled — or was it a wink?

Cambria currently boasts about 400 scarecrows, although in some future October, visitors might find a thousand or more scarecrows — forcing tourists to become click-a-holics just to capture images of half of the population. 

We might expect to see cutting-edge scarecrows with computer brains that can think and reason. 

Heck, it is conceivable that a forthcoming high-tech scarecrow could get elected to the Cambria Community Services District — perhaps beating out a future tin man in a straw vote of some kind. After winning a seat on the CCSD board, that digitally enabled scarecrow might arrive at a solution to the water crisis. 

So far, humans haven’t made any noticeable progress in that regard. 

Meanwhile, this past June, an alliterative-themed collaboration clicked between two Cambrians named Ramona and a restaurant owner named Ramon. Ramona Sheppard — whose family recently moved to Cambria — and Ramona Voge had a coalescing of creative ideas at a scarecrow workshop. 

The Sheppards are members of the Cambria Newcomers Club, and Ramona Voge is a board member. Ramona Voge is well acquainted with Ramon De Alba, and after urging him to present a scarecrow for his Creekside Garden Cafe, she finally said, “OK, I’ll do it.”

At the scarecrow-making class, the two Ramonas began collaborating on an ensemble to be positioned outside of Ramon’s eatery, with his full approval and electrical access.

Ramona Voge envisioned a little folkloric girl scarecrow (“Maria”) wearing a colorful mariachi dress. 

“When I was growing up in East L.A., I would see these folkloric dancers, but we didn’t have enough money for me to take dancing lessons,” she said.

“But the colors on the dancers, the colors … I loved the colors, which is why I chose the dress, but it was expensive online — about $200. But Elena, 

Ramon’s wife, gave me the dress, and the shoes, that her daughter once wore.”

Ramona Sheppard decided to produce a mariachi boy playing a trumpet, naming him “Brian Aqua-Delgado.” 

In between the boy and the girl is a male deer (“Venado”) that seems out of place in a mariachi setting. “Everybody always asks me, ‘What’s up with the deer?’ ” Ramona Voge said with a chuckle. 

The deer does seem an afterthought — but wait. The tiny buck is relevant because observers with smartphones that have the “QR Code” app can hear the deer rapping about water conservation. 

“Be a dear — save water here,” is the opening line, performed by yet another collaborater, 18-year-old Ryan Sheppard, a Cuesta College student. 

Somewhere along the path to putting this ensemble together, Ramona Sheppard volunteered her husband, Bill — an electrical engineer — to build and animate the three figures. 

“I built the scarecrows from the ground up here in my workshop. I made six versions of the skeletons for those scarecrows,” Bill Sheppard explained during an interview in their home.

As to animation, “We looked online and got a barbecue grill motor for $40, but later we found them for under $10. We bought the music mechanism from Hong Kong for seven bucks, but it wasn’t loud enough, so we bought another one for $10,” Bill Sheppard recalled.

“I’ve been into electronics since I was 8 years old,” he said of how he could make the scarecrow movements good enough to win first prize for “Best Animation” in the adult category. 

Ramona Sheppard reviewed the project’s genesis. 

“When Ramona mentioned mariachis, she and I were going back and forth on ideas, first thinking we would have a whole mariachi band playing. My son Ryan said we would need a trumpet player, a violin and a guide rail, so we realized there wasn’t enough room in front of the restaurant.”

Ramona Sheppard served 29 years as a registered nurse in operating rooms in Los Angeles-area hospitals. 

“Obviously, I am familiar with the human anatomy, and I wanted to make sure Bill had the correct anatomical layout. So I would say, ‘No, the legs are too long,’ or, ‘The arms are too short.’ ” 

At the end of the day, the project made the collaborators “really happy,” Ramona Voge said. “Because people looked at our scarecrows and said, ‘You might win.’ ” 

They certainly did win, and yes, the Voge-Sheppard-De Alba collaboration probably doesn’t get as many camera clicks as their whimsical distant cousins up on Main Street.

However, 50 years from now, when digitally driven, resourcefully enabled scarecrows have solved water resource issues, researchers delving into the Cambria Scarecrow Festival website will click on “2014” and see that Maria, the trumpet player and the deer were listed as first-place winners. 

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