Last Ones Standing

The Vanishing Scarecrows of Eastern Europe

 
 

On my first trip to the Czech Republic in 1993 I photographed a group of scarecrows that appeared to be advancing or dancing toward an isolated house in the countryside, this was the beginning of my fascination with the wabi-sabi beauty of these guardians of the crops. The tenets of wabi - sabi include: intrinsic simplicity, intuition rather than logic, acceptance of the transience and the inevitable, the value or beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked detail, that nature reclaims manmade elements in the end, and that things are either devolving towards, or evolving from, nothingness. Wabi Sabi celebrates the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.


The scarecrows are usually created by the older generation of women, known affectionately as babicka (grandmother). As this generation of women aged and died the craft of scarecrow making began to disappear. The older style scarecrows are now replaced with simple constructions of sticks, twine and bottles, sadly lacking the creativity and quirky anthropomorphic characteristics. I now travel further and further east to less populated and accessible areas to find traditional scarecrows. In these remote villages time flows a little slower.  Farm work is still done by hand, horse drawn carts transport hay and crops, and the lifestyle reflects the tradition of previous generations. The scarecrows are representatives of the faded and fading places, overlooked customs, and crafts that tenuously adhere in the swiftly changing Mittle European cultural identity.


Like the Zen hermit, scarecrows stay alone in nature and observe and contemplate the cycle of life in nature from bloom to wither. They are the essence of wabi-sabi. Their clothes become tattered, their stuffed heads fall apart, but they become more interesting through their transformation. They accept their inevitable fates. By fall harvest they are spent and ruined by the elements. They will be deconstructed and thrown out, or packed away for another incarnation for the next spring. They patiently wait for a past that will never return. They face their imminent demise as the encroachment of Westernization is obliterating their very existence.