Hay bales make festive holiday artwork canvas
Anson, TX — Yellow bales, yellow bales; it's Christmastime in Jones County.
The Abilene Reporter-News reports Kaci Murphy said she and her husband Justin found themselves with a surplus of hay this year.
"We have a coastal field outside of town and we bale a lot of hay," she said. "With all the rain this year, usually we sell it. But so many people have their own hay this year that we had a lot left over."
Murphy is also a counselor at Anson Middle School. It wasn't that long ago that hay was more scarce in these parts than the rain which makes it grow. Drought conditions in 2011 decimated hay production statewide, and bales were being trucked in from northern states.
But that was then, and this is now. If the cows don't need them, put 'em to use somewhere else. In this case, they were turned into seasonal décor.
"It all started with our Chamber of Commerce, where Justin Murphy and Larry Lytle wanted to do something a little more festive for the town," said Erica Jones. This is Jones' first year as the art teacher at the middle school, her classes took on the donated bales as a fall project.
"It started off that it was going to be 10 hay bales and we were going to decorate them for Halloween," Jones said.
"We were just going to do 10, but then people were calling and calling, so we put out more," Murphy added.
They ended up quadrupling their original number, setting out 41 bales that were sprinkled mostly along U.S. 277 both north and south of the Jones County Courthouse.
"There were some local businesses that decorated some on their own and organizations like the FFA and the National Honor Society," Jones said. "The middle school is decorating them for Christmas."
For all seasons
Each bale got its own design. As the holidays progressed from Halloween, to Thanksgiving and now Christmas, the illustrations changed, too.
"The kids come up with the ideas that they want to put on the bales," Jones said. "We research images, come up with color schemes to where we don't repeat the same color over and over again, and we go from there."
The students who have a larger artistic talent than their classmates sometimes assist Jones in outlining the shape. After that, everyone participates in coloring-in the illustration using spray paint.
Rolled hay isn't the easiest medium to use, but the fact that it's a large surface helps. Theoretically, mistakes could be removed with a set of pruning shears if it came down to it. But Jones seemed more inclined to just paint over any errors.
After the holidays the Murphys will take back the bales. Despite the paint on the outside they're still good for feeding cows.
"We just tear off the front," Murphy said. "The straw just falls right off. There's wrapping around (the bale), so when you feed the cows you cut that off anyway. We'll just use it for our personal cows."
Jones' classes started converting the Thanksgiving bales into Christmas-themed ones Nov. 29. Fortunately the weather that week proved helpful for getting the lion's share of the work finished.
Jones kept her kids to a tight schedule that day. Driving the kids to the north side of town, she assigned the boys to a double-stacked bale in front of the former Peacock's Mesquite Grill restaurant that at the moment featured Charlie Brown as a pilgrim. Jones outlined the new image, Snoopy laying on his doghouse, and then took the girls across the street to paint mistletoe on another bale.
"There are times when the kids would come up with stuff that I would never think about," Jones said. "Like the Charlie Brown and Snoopy; the kids really wanted to do that."
Two bales per class was the pace she set for the most part that Tuesday. But middle schoolers being who they are, those boys working on Snoopy seemed to hit a wall after a while. Jones returned to provide a little motivation and helped polish it off.
"Yeah. Every once in a while they go., squirrel?" she said, and laughed.