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Not your father’s scarecrow (but perhaps Washington Irving’s?)

November 17, 2009

The National Trust for Historic Preservation highlighted the annual invasion of the scarecrows at their beautiful Lyndhurst Estate in the Hudson Valley.  I wanted to share the feature here because it’s a great example of creative thinking that accomplishes many objectives:

  • promotes the Lyndhurst site
  • creates important community partnerships
  • engages students
  • encourages them to connect with history
  • connects history and art expressed in scarecrow form!
  • results in a huge visual statement, ideal for media coverage
  • creates a great familiy -friendly event to attact guests — even repeat guests who make it an annual event 

Here’s the NTHP interview with Judith Beil, curator of education at Lyndhurst.  (To view the flickr slideshow, click here.)

NTHP:  Judith, tell us about the Scarecrow Invasion and how it got started?  How many scarecrows do you have this year?

JB:  The Scarecrow Invasion began five years ago with just one school and 100 scarecrows. It has since grown into an event with seven schools and close to 700 scarecrows.  Grade levels range between first and eighth grades.  This year, we invited two Title 1 schools to participate and used our scholarship money to fund their transportation. Teachers from both schools stated: “This is the best experience that our kids will have all year.”

NTHP:  Tell us about a typical day when a group of students visit to begin creating their scarecrows. What kind of themes are there? How do they decide what to make? Do they tour and learn about Lyndhurst as well?

JB:  The students arrive at 10:00 AM with clothing and pre-made masks coated with polyurethane.  We provide the wooden supports, straw, and staple guns.  The field is organized according to schools and the students pick out their structure.  They then create their scarecrow.  Themes for this year’s crop of scarecrows are historical figures; famous people (including Queen Elizabeth and Julia Child); monsters; something we called “inside a teenager’s brain;” clowns; and a generic group ranging from a wood nymph to Yoda.  The students also participate in one of our educational program tours according to their grade level.

NTHP:  What do you think the scarecrow project brings to these kids? Why is it important for students of all ages and grade levels to participate in activities like this?

JB:  This is the fifth year of the program, and we now have a waiting list of schools that are interested in participating.  Essentially, the event gives students an opportunity to exhibit one of their designs – something they create – at a real museum.  We like to think of it as an environmental installation.  Students also research their creation in their history and language arts classes, and several groups write stories about their characters.  Additionally, many art teachers discuss and review the creations in their classes.

NTHP:  What other educational programming and activities does Lyndhurst offer students throughout the year?

JB:  We offer a range of interactive school programs beginning with pre-school and going through high school. Educators can visit for more information.

NTHP:  So, what happens to all of the materials and clothing once Halloween is over? And we have to ask – do you have any favorites among this year’s scarecrows?

JB:  The clothing is removed from the wooden supports by volunteers and young adults from YAI, a day treatment facility in Tarrytown.  Reusable clothing is then washed and donated to homeless shelters in the area.  As for a favorite, I can’t possibly choose – they are all fabulous!

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