I was surprised — and delighted — to see my scarecrow on the front page of the Provincetown Independent’s July 22 issue. Readers might enjoy the story behind the creation of Doreen Mathilde Crow.
Since moving to North Eastham in May 2017, we have frequently walked our dog at the high school fields, especially in season, when the bay beaches are closed to canines. I was walking there with a friend and our dogs one day, and we stopped to say hello to the man who was devotedly resurrecting the organic garden behind the school.
“Hey, can either of you help me?” he asked. “I have this King Philip corn from the Wampanoag Tribe, and traditionally it’s women who plant the seeds.” My friend had another commitment, but I agreed to help after taking my dog home.
When I returned, Rand Burkert gave me an envelope of corn kernels that looked like rubies. I’d never seen deep red corn before and was duly enchanted. He had already prepared the hills where the corn would be planted, followed by beans and squash in the traditional “Three Sisters” Wampanoag method. As I knelt by each hill, poking my finger into the loose dirt and dropping in a jeweled seed, I felt honored to be part of this process.
As I left, Rand and I wished the corn kernels safe and abundant fruition. He explained that the previous year’s crop had been challenged by corn borers and crows. His words reverberated in my mind later that afternoon, and I thought, “That garden needs a scarecrow!” He was open to the idea — and so it began.
First, I created a female figure from chicken wire, surrounding a metal tripod my husband helped construct that would both anchor her in the ground and hold her upright. Through the chicken wire, I wove strips of fabric from sculptures I’d made several years before, to create a skirt and shawl. Bamboo stakes poked up from the tripod, through a hubcap I found that became her sunhat. Her head was made from a bait bag, with facial features made from mussel shells and a whelk egg case. Frayed fishing rope became perfect hair. Recycled CDs were stuck on the bamboo stakes to reflect light and discourage hungry birds. As an artist, I love the magic of finding materials just when they are needed.
After making Doreen, I became a volunteer at the Nauset Garden for Food and Research. Under Rand’s tutelage, a small band of us have been growing several kinds of beans, tomatoes, lettuces, and kale — also cucumbers, eggplant, squash, calaloo, potatoes, peppers, herbs, and, of course, corn. We deliver fresh organic produce each week to the senior centers in Wellfleet and Eastham. We’re also engaged in seed-saving and experimentation to determine the most sustainable crops for the Cape Cod soil and weather. It’s been a deeply satisfying experience to work at the garden, and I’m grateful I said yes to planting the King Philip corn. Just look where that led.
This August, the corn is very tall and beautiful. Doreen Mathilde Crow has done a great job protecting the garden for three years now, withstanding winter nor’easters as well as summertime crows. Though she did need — and deserved — a new skirt this summer!
The sculpture and fiber art of Margot Stage, the former National Public Radio host and producer, has been seen in numerous museums and publications.