Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Modern-day harvest figures are primarily for decoration

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Scarecrows trace their roots to ancient crop protectors.

One of the earliest was the Greek god Priapus. Legend has it that he was misshapen at birth, and was left on a mountainside to die. Shepherds found him, and made him a protector of crops and animals, author Felder Rushing writes in Scarecrows: Making Harvest Figures and Other Yard Folks (Storey Books; $16.95). The ancient Greeks carved ugly statues of Priapus to stand watch over their fields.

When European colonists arrived in the New World, they followed the lead of Indians and hung pieces of cloth, animal skins and bones from rawhide leather strips. By the late 1600s, Rushing says, British colonists were creating human-figure scarecrows dressed in old clothes, with pumpkins for heads.

For the most part, farmers found that scarecrows failed to keep the crows away.

So, by the mid-1800s, Americans began expressing their artistic ability with scarecrows, and they gained new life as decorations.

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