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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Crop Art

UFO landing sites? No UFO ever had such complex footprints.
At first, it wasn't thought of or called art at all. When they first began to appear in the outlying rural areas of Australia around 1963-65, they were considered a phenomena--the earliest term used was "crop brands." Extraterrestrial believers called them saucer "nests," which, indeed, was a pretty apt description of such early circular impression made in the middle of various crop fields. It wasn't until around 1988 that the term "crop circles" was first used by a writer for the Journal of Meteorology, though the term had been kicked around informally as much at ten or fifteen years before that. In any case, during this period a group of self-styled "experts" concluded they had to have been made by alien spacecraft. Their point of view was bolstered by "eyewitnesses" to UFO landings, even colored pencil diagrams, complete with everything but operating instructions (below).

An "eyewitness" sketch of a UFO creating a crop circle, ca. 1965.
Notice the inclusion of he Egyptian ankh design just above the center line.
The Mowing Devil, 1678. Despite
the etching, his work was round.
The truth is, of course, they were all manmade. Though newspaper clippings of similar field designs date back to as early as 1678 and the so-called "mowing devil" (left, who, incidentally, cut rather than bent circular crop formations). The fact is, the bloodlines of such art can pretty easily be traced back to two British pranksters, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. Bower and his wife had lived in Australia in the 1960s and had read of the work of unknown pranksters with their circular creations at the time. Doug Bower was a landscape painter (below), by the way, so the link between crop circles and art is fairly strong. Moving to England in 1966, Bower met fellow artist, Dave Chorley in a Southampton pub. Later, one night in 1980, perhaps having a bit too much ale, the two were sitting out by a cornfield trying to get inspiration for paintings when Bower suddenly recalled the crop circles he's read about in Australia. One thing led to another and within a short time, the two men were making regular Friday night trips to area cornfields armed with a heavy beam, rope, stakes, liquid "refreshments," and a boyish glee for mischief. They drove a stake randomly in the middle of the field, extended from it a rope attached to the end of their wooden "corn-flattener." Together down on their hands and knees, they pushed the thing round and round a twenty to thirty-foot radius of corn. As they proceeded, the rope grew shorter and when they reached their stake, they had a perfect circle of flattened corn. Bower admitted later it was damned hard work.

Doug Bower at work on his more traditional art.
Expecting some news coverage of their prank, the two men were sorely disappointed. For two long years, no one seemed to notice (though actually there were a few news clipping the men were unaware of). They decided to find a more "public" field of corn for their heroic Friday night efforts. (Friday nights were the only nights their wives allowed them out alone.) Then in 1988, the two decided to go big time with a large field called the "Punch Bowl" near Cheesefoot Head. This time, people noticed. Enjoying their newfound "fame" they created other, similar impressions in nearby fields. All of this was top secret, just between the two of them. Even their wives didn't know until later when they became suspicious that they might be cavorting with other women. The truth was a convenient defense, and it allowed them to double their workforce while also "running around in circles" on other nights of the week.

A crop circle, up close and personal. Bower and Chorley later
switched to grassy crops with bent much more easily than cornstalks.
The "fame" their circle created delighted the pair to no end. First came the London press, then TV, and in just a few months word had spread virtually around the world that "something" was creating weird circles in the middle of the English countryside. They found it even more hilarious as "experts" took their bait, attributing the circles unequivocally to UFOs. Others called to mind freak weather phenomena while some suggested animal activity, magnetism, and the devil himself (having apparently come upon the 1678 clipping of the devil mower). What disturbed Bower and Chorley was the fact that local entrepreneurs were cashing in, selling crop circle T-shirts, helicopter tours, books, and other souvenirs while they got nothing for all their work.

Harder than it looks, yet simpler than other explanations.
Finally, in 1991, Bower and Chorley went public. They created one of their circles in front of cameras and the press, demonstrating the simple tools and techniques. A UFOlogist was later shown the publicly made circle, which he swore was extraterrestrial in origin. He was completely humiliated when shown film and photos of Bower and Chorley at work. The secret was out, and with it came scores of imitators. However, with the publicity came the freedom for the two founders of this new art form to move beyond simple circles as their designs, and those of others, became more and more complex (below).

A more recent Bower and Chorley crop art design. Who needs UFOs when you have a little rope, a stake, and a piece of plywood. The light areas are heavily compressed, the medium shades only lightly so. The darker areas are untouched.
There was tourist money to be made from crop art and the more complex (top), the more outlandish, the greater the publicity and exposure. Some designs played to the diehard believers in aliens from outer space while others adapted traditional art content such as portraiture (below, left), and even company logos. There have even developed art competitions in which artists are given a single night to complete their work which is then judged by a panel of crop art "experts" (minus the UFOlogist mentioned earlier). Prizes ranged as high as three-thousand British pounds (over $5,100 USD). As for Bower and Chorley, they've given up painting. There's lots more money to be made in flattening cereals.

Elvis by a crop artist.
Probably the most complex circle
I've yet to see.

Aliens with a sense of humor?
Homer Simpson in
Cerne Abbans, England.



  1. I'm sorry Jim, but I have to disagree with you regarding crop "circles." Most crop "circles" are not circles, rather, they are extremely precise ellipses, something considerably more difficult to produce. Also, they generally appear in rye or wheat fields and the plant stalks are somehow "heated" from withing and bent at ninety degrees without destroying the plant stalk; no living scientist, and many have studied the phenomena, understands how this is accomplished. Furthermore, the plants are laid over in very precise fractal patterns which seem to encode complex information patterns. It is also known that the patterns within many crop "circles" encode actual binary statements! I would direct your attention to Freddy Silva's fascinating website and book:

    With regards,
    Wes Hansen

  2. Wes--

    Thanks for your input, but I'm afraid we're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I checked out the website you posted and to me it has all the hallmarks of an author with a vested interest (books, tours, souvenirs, etc.) in maintaining a conspiracy theory. If the "circles" are somewhat oval it may well be human error in their making, and as for the nature of the crop bending, I could find no reliable evidence to back up Silva's claims in this regard. As for fractals, that's nothing beyond the realm of human endeavor, coded or otherwise. Any heating of he stalk could be simply the result of friction generated by the bending mechanism. I'm no scientist, but in researching this, I didn't come across any reliable indication that the "circles" are of anything other than human origin. I'll stand by Bower and Chorley.