Artists Make Hay at Florence Griswold Museum

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We all remember the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz lamenting, "If I only had a brain." Well, he'd be stunned to meet all the brilliant, talented scarecrows at the Florence Griswold Museum-from Picass-crow to Frida Kahlcrow to Strawsby Matisse-nearly 40 straw men and women, who will entertain and educate visitors during "Scarecrows at the Museum: A Harvestime Adventure" throughout October.

Seeking another fun way to transform the museum into a residence for artistic creatures after last year's successful Wee Faierie Village, David Rau, the museum's director of education and outreach, struck on scarecrows.

The response was as big as it was enthusiastic. Artists and designers from Branford to Chester to Old Lyme to Pawcatuck-and as far as New Hampshire and New York-have handcrafted an array of scarecrows based on famous artists or works of art, transforming the Florence Griswold's 11 acres into a Halloween seasonal spectacle that can be visited during the day or with a guide by flashlight and lanterns during Not-So-Very-Scary Nighttime Tours.

What do scarecrows have to do with an American Impressionist art museum?

After doing some research, the museum staff discovered that Miss Florence had built a scarecrow in her garden, complete with a plank of wood for a palette tied to one hand, and a twig for a brush to the other, to scare away birds and other creatures eating the vegetables she grew to feed her resident artists.

The Method Behind the Madness

Watercolorist/illustrator Julie Garvin Riggs of Old Lyme styled her scarecrow, Jack the Dripper, after American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, famous for his "action paintings," created with paint dripped, spattered, and thrown onto canvases.

"I was fascinated by his idiosyncratic behavior, his total non-compliance in the art world, and his love/hate relationship with himself and his medium," Riggs says.

She made Jack out of old metal paint cans and one large plastic paint tub as his torso-and then dripped and splattered him with paint from head to toe.

It took her three weeks of layering to achieve the "Pollock look."

"It was such a freeing experience for me!" she says.

"The challenge in creating a free-standing sculpture was simply getting it to 'stand' reliably and be able to face the weather conditions for a month," Riggs explains, "so he is standing on large work boots filled with cement and threaded with steel rods up each leg."

Frank Lloyd Wright was the inspiration for Erik Block Design Build of Hadlyme's scarecrow, Frank Lloyd Fright.

"Wright is one of the most iconic architects of the 20th century," says Erik Block. "He pushed the limits of the built world throughout his career and seemed a fitting choice for an abstract, fun scarecrow."

Block's company advocates the use of reclaimed materials, so he turned to the lumber pile for inspiration.

"We had lumber left from numerous barns," Block says. "The timber frame construction we're familiar with lends itself so well to the skeletal effect we were looking for that it became a natural choice."

The scarecrow's placement on the museum grounds was particularly important as Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings were always site specific.

Block and his associates walked the entire grounds with David Rau. The stream on the edge of the property was the last stop and their first choice.

"It's secluded and less traveled than the rest of the grounds but has a great connection to nature," Block says.

"We'd like to thank the entire Florence Griswold staff for the invitation to participate…events like these are what make the arts so valuable," he says.

Block also gives special recognition to Phil Trowbridge Masonry of Old Lyme for the installation.

"Without Phil's crane, Frank would still be on the ground," he notes.

Bill Vollers of Vollers Design Studio in Chester modeled his scarecrow, Indiana Crow, on the work of Robert Indiana (b. 1928), an American sculptor and painter whose "LOVE" (1970) sculpture is known worldwide.

"He also created sculptures from wood beams and charismatic junk that he scavenged among the old buildings and crumbling piers near his studio in lower Manhattan," Vollers says, "(which are) very similar to the materials I used to create Indiana Crow."

Although Vollers hadn't made a scarecrow before, he's worked with similar materials to create his own sculptures and constructions.

He found it both "challenging and fun" to create his scarecrow, and says, "I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to participate in this project."

"Scarecrows at the Museum: A Harvestime Adventure" will conclude with a Halloween Party and Costume Parade on Oct. 30. For a complete schedule of Not-So-Very-Scary Nighttime Tours and details on other related activities and programs, visit or call (860) 434-5542. The museum is at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme.


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