Friday, May 28, 2010

Introducing Van Scarecrow

A year or so ago, while planning the Museum’s Wee Faerie Village project (October 2009), I was looking for an illustrator who could produce a fanciful map for the project. While on the website of children’s author and illustrator John Himmelman, one of the faerie dwelling architects, I noticed a link to his son Jeffrey Himmelman’s website. That click brought me to a world filled with colorful warriors and witches; all odd, yet endearing, creatures. It didn’t take me long to know that I’d found my faerie village map maker.

But indeed, I had found much more. As we began working together on the Wee Faerie Village project, it occurred to us that having faerie images would be useful in conveying our concept: that these winged creatures were the artistic muses to the original artists of the Lyme Art Colony who stayed at Miss Florence’s boardinghouse.

I sent Jeff some images of faeries that I liked from books and websites, and asked him to draw his idea of a faerie to get the ball rolling. What he created was a beautiful faerie woman dressed in autumnal splendor with wings shaped like oak leaves. She was a strong, warrior-type faerie, but the tone was going in the right direction.

As the project developed, Jeff suggested that the faeries for the project should be younger to appeal to the many families we hoped to attract to the Museum. He was dead on, and with only a few drafts passed back and forth, he created, (or is the word conjured?) the image of “Griswold,” the boy faerie. Griswold was both boyish and elfish in form, with an acorn cap beret, a sharp pencil tucked sword-like in his waistband, and wings that resembled oak leaves and maple seedlings. He was shown holding an old-fashioned ink pen like a spear in one hand while cradling rolls of drawing paper in the other.

Soon, Griswold was followed by “Flor
ence,” a girl faerie. More demure than the first female faerie, and matching Griswold in character, she was shown cradling a paintbrush. Winged and dressed in leaves, she was crowned with purple flowers and had a colorful artist’s palette and pots of paint strapped to her belt.

This duo was followed by a small band of other faeries, as well as a faerie dog and cat, along with a faerie gate that led into a intricate map of the campus that enabled over 10 ,000 visitors to find their way around the Wee Faerie Village. The Museum also created a series of puzzles and magnets using the Griswold and Florence images that sold very well during the three-week run of the event.

Now, a year later, the Museum is embarking on another fall event geared for families called “Scarecrows at the Museum: A Harvestime Adventure.” Instead of faerie dwellings, this October the Museum grounds will be covered with full-scale scarecrow creations based on famous art and artists.

To kick off this initiative, I contacted Jeff Himmelman to see if he was up to drawing scarecrows that alluded to famous artists. Within days, the first rendition of Van Scarecrow was attached to an email. The resemblance to Vincent Van Gogh was startling, from the craggy beard to the sun-worn hat. In Jeff’s depiction, however, one of the scarecrow’s eyes was a button sewn into place that was slightly unnerving.
A quick straw poll (get it?) among the staff confirmed that we needed a slightly less maniacal looking scarecrow mascot—one that would not actually scare crows, not to mention small children.

Always open to constructive criticism, Jeff went back to the drawing board, and a revised Van Scarecrow appeared. Before we went to color, the final step, I asked Jeff to incorporate some corn (I was in the process of negotiating the planting of a small cornfield on campus) and a crow. I figured a scarecrow couldn’t be too scary if he had a crow buddy. Jeff went to work. The email marked “Final” arrived a few days later.

“Et, Voila!” as Van Scarecrow might have said it. The first official image for the Museum’s “Scarecrows at the Museum” was born.

Want to find out more about this year’s Scarecrows at the Museum?
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