The days are beginning to shorten, the weather starting to cool and Halloween decorations and sweets are popping up in stores everywhere. In the spirit of the season, Goodyears Bar resident Katie O’Hara-Kelly produces and sells whimsical scarecrows perfect for those who really get into the occasion.
After all, a pumpkin patch without a scarecrow is like trick-or-treat without candy.
O’Hara-Kelly made her first scarecrows in 2002 and they were quickly featured in Sunset magazine, helping launch her website and scarecrow-making business, Garden Folk Scarecrows.
Several years ago, John Deere Tractors used one of O’Hara-Kelly’s scarecrows in its advertising.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of her business opening and she estimates having made nearly 600 scarecrows in the last decade with a handful of customers becoming collectors of her creations. According to O’Hara-Kelly, she has sold 45 scarecrows to a single buyer and another has purchased nearly 30. Customers are located as far away as England and Canada.
If you’ve ventured into the Madelyn Helling Library within the last few years, it’s possible you’ve seen one of O’Hara-Kelly’s creations.
Annually, she makes what she calls a scarecrow-witch located near the library’s front desk during the Halloween season.
To help celebrate the anniversary of Garden Folk Scarecrows, O’Hara-Kelly has written and illustrated a new children’s book called “Garden Folk.”
“It has 16 different scarecrows in 16 different gardens, like a tomato patch, or a vegetable garden or a flower garden,” O’Hara-Kelly said. “All of the scarecrows are made out of different things and all of the scarecrows in the book are facing some kind of adversity.”
A recurring theme within the book, is that while each scarecrow faces some minor discomfort, they are still happy in the garden.
“The message is not meant to be heavy,” O’Hara-Kelly said. “There are so many things to be happy about, so why complain? In a small way, it may teach kids that it might not always be comfortable where you are, but you can still find beauty and a love for the place you are in.”
“Garden Folk” is quite primary-color bright, the drawings and prose equally inviting. The setting for the book is a mythical place called Garden Valley “famous for its gardens and springtime daffodils.” It’s a community where “every neighbor has a scarecrow.”
A sample: “Mr. Cobb has ants in his pants and ladybugs on his nose, ’cause he lives out in the garden, between the planted rows. The cornstalks tickle his armpits. The pollen makes him sneeze, but he loves it in the garden, among the honeybees.”
Locally, O’Hara-Kelly is known as an educator and artist. She says much of her inspiration comes from the clothes she finds while foraging through various Grass Valley and Nevada City thrift stores.
“The clothes kind of make the person,” O’Hara-Kelly said.
Her husband Michael is a luthier and contributes to the cause by constructing the support sticks that comprise the scarecrows arms and torso. As an artist, O’Hara-Kelly says she chose her particular subject due to a longtime love of folk art.
“I’ve always loved folk art and especially scarecrows,” she said. “Folk art just seems so free and spontaneous. I really like that.”
The characters associated with each scarecrow emanate from her abundant creativity.
“The names just come from my own imagination,” O’Hara-Kelly said. “What can I say, I’m a goofball. (laughing) I’m an art teacher and an artist and I like to write. Whimsy tickles my fancy.”
Anyone checking out an O’Hara-Kelly scarecrow will instantly notice how happy they look, not frightening at all.
“People will call me and ask if they (scarecrows) will keep crows out of the yard and I say no, they probably won’t do that,” she said. “They are mainly decorative.”
O’Hara-Kelly, herself an avid gardener, ends her new book by admonishing garden keepers everywhere to always make sure a scarecrow is nearby.
“Well, garden folk are happy. They love it where they live. A garden grows lots better, with all the joy they give. So make one for your garden and dress it as you please. Your plants will grow and blossom, if you just plant the seeds.”
To purchase O’Hara-Kelly’s book or to see her scarecrows, go to her website at www.gardenfolk.com.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer living in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.