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Two Branches Of One Family Vie To Make The Best Scarecrow In New England

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“Wolf Spider” made by the Wong family of Topsfield with corn, peppers, potatoes, phragmites, parsnips and gourds in 2009. (Greg Cook)

“Wolf Spider” made by the Wong family of Topsfield with corn, peppers, potatoes, phragmites, parsnips and gourds in 2009. (Greg Cook)

“The scarecrows were just pumpkin heads and flannel shirts,” Gail Wong explains of the concoctions that used to populate the contest at the annual Topsfield Fair. “We figured that’s no good. That’s boring.”

So for some years now, two branches of the Wong family have been competing back and forth in the agricultural fair’s annual scarecrow contest and regularly beating all other entries from the region.

“We’ve done crows, nightmares,” Wong says. “We’ve done flying monkeys. The year the Bruins won, we did the Bruins bear holding the championship trophy over his head.”

“Killer Cassowary” made by the Topsfield Wongs from phtragmites, shallots, red peppers, gourds, cabbage, parsnips, chili peppers in 2011. (Greg Cook)

“Killer Cassowary” made by the Topsfield Wongs from phtragmites, shallots, red peppers, gourds, cabbage, parsnips and chili peppers in 2011. (Greg Cook/WBUR)

The fair, which runs through Oct. 14 in Topsfield, Mass., is known for its barns full of poultry, rabbits, sheep and cows; for country and pop singers; for quilters and beekeeping and sand-sculpting. The veggie creature and scarecrow contest entries are displayed in the fruits and vegetables barn, behind Woody Lancaster of Topsfield’s 1,746.5-pound pumpkin, which won the fair’s famed giant pumpkin contest on Oct. 4.  (It’s giant, but not as giant as the world record breaking 2,009-pounder that Ron Wallace of Greene, R.I., won the contest with last year.)

This year, the Wongs are represented by Gail Wong, who went to art school and is fond of painting horses, dogs and cats; her daughter Sarah, a vet tech; and son Amos, all from Topsfield. Then there’s the Atkinson, N.H., branch of the family — Gail’s daughter Susan, who used to work in the design department at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and now does small contracting; her husband Joe; and their son Sam Wong-Rapuano.

“They do all the building in my cellar,” Gail Wong says. “We get all my friends’ kids to come down. At least 15 of those veggie creatures were built in my cellar. We have a real good time.”

Gail Wong’s first place vegetable cat from this year. (Greg Cook)

Gail Wong’s first place vegetable cat from this year. (Greg Cook)

The fair’s creature display includes swans, giraffes, penguins, pigs and various cartoon characters made from squash, eggplants and other vegetables. The Wongs excel at these smaller creations too, with teenage Sam Wong-Rapuano winning a first prize for his squash sasquatch and Gail Wong also taking first for her cat playing with a ball of yarn. “There’s a butternut squash underneath there and a gourd for the head and carrots for the arms and then I just cover it with phragmites,” which gives the cat its furry appearance, Wong says. “The eyes are hazelnuts. And I think little potato feet. … And the tail was made from a wilted parsnip.”

“Giant Mantis” that the Wong-Rapuano family made from rhubarb, burdock, blue hubbard squash, hot peppers, sweet peppers, artichoke, corn, devil’s trumpet and ginger root this year. At right is the Boston Strong eagle made by kids from the Lynn Economic Opportunity and the Ford School in Lynn. (Greg Cook)

“Giant Mantis” that the Wong-Rapuano family made from rhubarb, burdock, blue hubbard squash, hot peppers, sweet peppers, artichoke, corn, devil’s trumpet and ginger root this year. At right is the Boston Strong eagle made by kids from the Lynn Economic Opportunity and the Ford School in Lynn. (Greg Cook/WBUR)

This year, the branches of the family are competing against each other in the scarecrow competition with a red Chinese dragon (by the Topsfield branch, which took second) and a giant red, black and white mantis (by the New Hampshire branch, which took first). Plus there’s a Boston Strong eagle made by kids from the Lynn Economic Opportunity and the Ford School in Lynn (which didn’t place).

“Last year someone did jump in and actually beat us,” Wong says. “And that was good.”

“Chinese Dragon” that Gail, Sarah and Amos Wong of Topsfield made from grape leaves, phragmites, artichoke, hot peppers, pumpkins, corn husks and carrots this year. (Greg Cook)

“Chinese Dragon” that Gail, Sarah and Amos Wong of Topsfield made from grape leaves, phragmites, artichoke, hot peppers, pumpkins, corn husks and carrots this year. (Greg Cook)

“Goat Devil” made by the Wong-Rapuano family from corn, pineapple, gourds, peppers, phragmites, artichoke, beans, beets, onions and carrots in 2009. (Greg Cook)

“Goat Devil” made by the Wong-Rapuano family from corn, pineapple, gourds, peppers, phragmites, artichoke, beans, beets, onions and carrots in 2009. (Greg Cook/WBUR)

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Welcome to the ARTery. The ARTery offers the best of Art news, reviews and features in sounds, words, sights, stages, screens and experiences in and of Boston. The ARTery, presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, is powered by critic-at-large Ed Siegel and reporter and critic Greg Cook.

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