͞Photos: Jean Marie Smith
If you’re not already in the spirit of Halloween, then this hay bale artist is certain to get you in the monster mood. Jean Marie Smith is a resource teacher and artist-in-residence at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen, Kentucky. For the last four years, Smith has stenciled Halloween characters onto hay bales as part of the nature preserve’s annual Haunted Hike event. Her creations became noticed worldwide this year after being widely shared by event-goers on Facebook.
“The process is pretty straight-forward,” she says. The process begins by picking up the bales from a local farmer who lets the preserve borrow them during the event. Smith then decides which bales to use and which characters they could be. “Each bale of hay is unique and usually tells me what it wants to be,” she says.
As each bale is different, each character ends up taking on unique portrayals that will change each year. “I don’t practice beforehand and it takes anywhere from an hour to nine hours, depending on the difficulty,” she says. For this year, the hay bales depicting Harry Potter and his owl Hedwig took around nine hours to make, while the bales of Finn and Jake from Adventure Time both took two hours.
When asked about her inspiration for the project, Smith says, “I got the idea to paint hay bales from a local pumpkin farm that had a Halloween event. They always had a couple of hay bales on their sides with the ends spray painted like a jack-o’-lantern.”
It was then that she approached the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve about her idea for their next Halloween event. “I knew we had to have a quick way to paint the bales from year to year, so I drew large stencils on cardboard and cut them out,” she says. Over the years, Smith has used hay to recreate witches on brooms, owls, bats, and pumpkins, as well as popular Halloween characters including the Minions, Frankenstein, Jack Skellington, and even the Cat in the Hat.
The owl design was what took her artistry to a whole new level. “I bought a gardening tool that has a really long handle for leverage and it allows me to pull out the hay that I need to make noses, ears, mouths, etc. I push and pull the hay and eventually it takes the shape I want,” she says.
What happens to the barrels of hay after the Halloween event? “The hay bales go back to the farmer,” she says. “All of the spraypainted hay is removed and most of the bale is still usable. Last year, he said he was going to take the Minion back to his house and put it in his yard!”
Take a look at some more of Smith’s designs below.