Public Art for Public Education

In her classic essay, Street Haunting, Virginia Woolf searches the streets of London for the perfect lead pencil. It is dusk, the season approaching winter, and the lead pencil merely a pretext. She wants to be out and about discovering the charms, both high and low, of not just her city but also her uncharted self. Anything, really, could serve as a magnet to draw her forth from the humdrum metronome of her own familiarity.

On the Vineyard these days the perfect lead pencil, or rather sixty-seven of them, call out to us to spend a moment outside our normal boundaries. These lead pencils are much larger in form, though, and built with hay or chicken wire, wood, or papier-mâché. They are scarecrows, created once again by the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School as an annual fundraiser. Businesses pay $75 for the chance to brighten or frighten their front door, announcing in the most creative way their support for education, and in particular reading. The theme each year is literature and to street haunt one’s way around the Island is to shake hands with all manner of well-known characters.

Ahab, his leg still missing, stands beside his white whale. The two together on a side street in Edgartown seem amiable companions, though, as if the passage of time has brought these archenemies finally to some understanding.

Medusa, too, looks content, even quite fetching, with full red lips and her halo of horror. No doubt Lady Gaga is taking notes.

Harry Potter appears rather small astride his broom, perched appropriately in front of Murdick’s Fudge. Among the many curiosities of the series was just how many sweets the young wizards consumed.

The spark of creativity often follows a familiar trajectory. Big dreams by young students, their imaginations still ablaze with the live coals of literary wonderment instead of overflowing with to-do lists and nostalgic dead ends, join forces with the reality of mom and dad’s tactile skills, or lack thereof.

It is decidedly a family affair. At the base of each scarecrow are the words, By the family of . . . the Dibiaso’s, Aliberti’s, Halls, Welch’s, the list is long.

So take a moment this weekend to leave yourself at home and go out street haunting. Tell them Martin the Warrior, the mouse with the overlarge walking stick and broken sword hanging from his neck standing guard outside the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, sent you.