Scaring up smiles

This year Charter School donates scarecrows to brighten businesses.


Yes, Halloween is upon us, but there is something funny about a particular crop of scarecrows popping up all over the Island this year. First, you will notice that all of them are, appropriately, wearing masks. But that is not all that is different. Creating the scarecrows has been a Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School tradition since 2005, when it was started by Gwendolyn Natusch as an art fundraiser. But this year is different in another way.

Heather Capece, drama teacher at the Charter School and the artist at the heart of this endeavor, says, “We decided this year not to ask businesses to buy a scarecrow. For years this has been a huge fundraiser for the Charter School; scarecrows have gone from $100 to $200 each, and we make over 100 of them. The money raised by the PTO helps support our programs like project period, field trips, school play and sports teams, teacher appreciation, and evening activities like soup and game night. This year, we wanted to say thank you. So I fixed up 19 scarecrows, and some needed a bit of TLC. There were 16 scarecrows from last year; a few are ones I made. I fixed them by adding a detail or cleaning them up. This year, the PTO thought we should add masks, so I made masks and added iron-ons of heroes.”

This year, the PTO and Capece fashioned the scarecrows. But, typically, who else has their hands in the making of these fantastic creations? Laura Hearn, both a participating parent and the young adult librarian at the West Tisbury library, says, “The students, staff, and parents generally volunteer to build, set up, monitor (scarecrows often need tending to over the time they are up), and/or remove scarecrows. There are also volunteers who speak with businesses regarding donations. A few weeks in October are set for building. There are donated clothes, shoes, masks, accessories, straw, and wooden frames. The general theme is ‘literary characters.’ I’ve seen ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ Skippyjon Jones, Hermione Granger, etc.”

Capece, who leads the charge, says, “Each year, we have a weekend workshop to help members in our community make them. Then PTO members keep an eye on them at the businesses. For example, over the years, my family has made Toothless, who washed out to sea in Edgartown, or Dobby the House Elf, Legolas, Thorin, Ron Weasley, Frog and Toad, and our family best, Smaug the Dragon.”

Capece adds, “I have it down to a science as to how to make one. I have learned a lot of tricks over the years. Go into making one with an idea of a character, go to the thrift store with clothing ideas, then you need a stand, chicken wire, foam for the head or stuffing, pillowcase or stockings in skin tone, sewing needle and thread, felt, buttons, hats are great, staple gun, zip ties, hay, or stuffing if you want to keep it year after year.”

According to the online encyclopedia, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Japanese all used scarecrows in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, some Europeans believed scarecrows had special powers. In Germany, they were made of wood, and looked like witches who were supposed to help the coming of spring. In medieval Britain, boys and girls became live scarecrows or bird scarers. And such was the case too in Plymouth, where Pilgrim family members took turns scaring the birds from precious crops. We see the origins of the modern scarecrow with later immigrants in the 1800s, who brought a variety of ideas for making them, including German farmers in Pennsylvania making human-looking scarecrows called bootzamon, or bogeyman, that were dressed in overalls, long-sleeved shirts or coats, woolen or straw hats, and had large red handkerchiefs around their necks. 

School director Peter Steedman says about this year’s efforts, “We understand that Island families are struggling. We really wanted to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the frontline workers, and to use this as a way to celebrate them and to make it a little fun and festive. Maybe some of these scarecrows can put a smile on people’s faces, and help us even remember a time pre-COVID, and also imagine a time that’s post-COVID; that we will remember the past and how wonderful this tradition is, but also let’s think of a day when we are not ruled by the pandemic. That we can think of a brighter time. But the only reason we can think about that brighter time is because of the frontline workers.”

Keep an eye out as you travel about. These present-day creations are all around, at the hospital, grocery stores, fire stations, Steamship Authority, M.V. Bank, and the Ag Hall, to just name a few locations.

“This year we wanted to thank those in our community for all that they continue to do for our Island each and every day,” Capece said. “We did not ask for donations … we are hoping to add a smile to the Island and those who help.”

Where you can see them

Aquinnah fire station

Chilmark fire station/town hall

Stop & Shop, Edgartown

Island Health Care, Edgartown

Edgartown town hall

Oak Bluffs fire station

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital

M.V. Community Services

Reliable, Oak Bluffs

Cronig’s, Vineyard Haven

Tisbury Emergency Services Facility

Island Food Pantry

Steamship Authority Terminal, Vineyard Haven

Ag Society, West Tisbury

Charter School, West Tisbury

M.V. Bank, West Tisbury

West Tisbury Public Safety Building

All Island libraries