Nov 30 2011: Scarecrow Festival and Open Gardens at Wymeswold, Leicestershire (June 27 2011)
When Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane compiled their Folk Archive in 2007, the two gathered evidence of all kinds of unofficial activity, most of it largely unrecognised even as legitimate folk culture. True, the surviving Morris Dances and Well Dressings were featured, alongside such uniquely strange customs as the Welsh Mari Llwyd, the Derby Tup and the Padstow May Day celebration featuring the Wicker Man ceremony of the Old ‘Oss, all respectable enough. The strength of the Folk Archive, though, was less in its cursory inclusion of these older revived customs, and firmly in its inclusion of many other current manifestations of unofficial folk culture: everything from prison art and website design to political banners and flyers, crop circles, custom cars, funeral wreaths, sandcastles, puddings, lay-by snack bars and sound system speaker stacks at the Notting Hill Carnival. Not featured (so far as I could tell) were the plethora of scarecrows that seem to pop up around Leicestershire villages like Hickling and Wymeswold during the summer months, often taking their cues from popular culture and absurd humour rather than conventional scarecrow design. Some can be very elaborate – whole gardens filled with tableaux from films or popular novels – others more satirical: one from the Wymeswold selection here features a man in a chair surrounded by empty beer cans, another the face of Wayne Rooney. At Hickling the scarecrows are the focal point, while in Wymeswold they’re blended into a more sedate Open Gardens event to raise funds for charity: the hand-made signage and gardens yield many more odd constructions, from a miniature Stonehenge to a clay portrait.