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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Whimsical time for creativity in Wilton

Spring is the time for festivals, celebrating the return of flowers and warm weather – and trying to ignore the black flies that come, as well.

May Day is celebrated in many places and cultures under many names. ...

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Spring is the time for festivals, celebrating the return of flowers and warm weather – and trying to ignore the black flies that come, as well.

May Day is celebrated in many places and cultures under many names.

For a number of years, 1998-2005, spring in Wilton meant the return of the Whimsical People.

The Whimsicals, various characters and depictions on wooden frames, were part of the Wilton Arts and Film Festival, which ran for 12 years, from 1993-2005. The festival stopped while Main Street was totally rebuilt, and then began again as Celebrate Wilton! This year, it will undergo another change and become Summerfest, a townwide celebration in June.

The idea of the Whimsicals was brought to the festival by Promotions Committee member Alice Mitchell, who had seen a small town in Vermont filled with scarecrows. Mitchell, Loretta April and Linda Levesque oversaw the construction for most of those years.

The frames were at first made of scrap lumber by volunteers and later by students and staff at High Mowing School. They were of various sizes, but generally about 4 feet for adults and a smaller child size. The heads were muslin stuffed with hay. Construction was usually with a glue gun. The arms and legs were movable to create natural poses.

People were invited to come to the fire station a few weeks before the festival and create a Whimsical – the wilder the imagination, the better. It was free if the creation was for downtown display, and $10 to make one to take home. Many people did have their own, and the Whimsicals could appear anywhere in town.

The week after the festival, they all disappeared into a storage unit to be re-created the next spring.

The costumes were made from boxes of “rummage sale rejects,” clothing of all kinds, plus accessories such as hats, shoes, scarves, gloves, jewelry and sports equipment. Whimsicals included firemen, ballplayers, fishermen, and hikers.

Recently, Wilton Historical Society member Stanley Young presented a program about the Whimsicals with a wonderful selection of pictures. He said a brochure described the characters as “cheerful. They are mysterious, they don’t have faces; they are modest and want no wood showing; surprising because you’ll never know where one might be.”

The pictures show a few with a suggestion of a face, eyes or mouth.

Most of the Whimsicals were constructed by families, young teens finding the creation challenging and groups trying to outdo each other.

There was almost always a fisher boy sitting on the dam by the police station, but he frequently ended up in the river. One year he was found sitting on a dam downriver “enjoying a can of beer,” Young said.

Young’s own Whimsical appeared in many guises in front of his home: driving an antique tractor, mowing the lawn, waving a flag and at the end, reclining in a chair with a book.

Ballplayers appeared along the bank above Main Street, graduates at the bottom of Burns Hill, bridal parties in Memorial Park, readers in front of the library, boys in trees and Whimsicals advertising the wares of the stores they stood in front of. There was little vandalism, although an early one sitting on top of “The Dummy” signpost was torched.

They were complaints at first, letters to the editor about them being “stupid,” or scary” or a “poor use of clothing that could go to the needy.” Some complained about groups on the sidewalks. Drivers stopped because they thought they were people waiting to cross.

But most people found them fun, imaginative and a great way to introduce the arts festival.

There has been a suggestion that they return for Summerfest. That would be nice – they were a lot of fun and their appearance anticipated by many residents.

Keep up with the past with Another Perspective, which runs every other Sunday in The Telegraph. Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or jessies@tellink.net.