Local Authority: Roger Calhoon, Corn-maze Designer

Corn-maze designer Roger Calhoon cultivates mystery

Category: seattlepi.com teaser headlines


Name: Roger Calhoon
Title: Corn-maze designer
South 47's Maze Length: “About a mile long; two miles if you take the wrong turns.”
Number of Corn Plants Per Maze: 250,000
On Maze Themes: “We aren’t going to be doing any Disney mazes.”
Web site: south47farm.com
Twitter ID: @FarmerRoger

Each fall, about 10,000 people thank Roger Calhoon for getting them lost. Calhoon is general manager of Redmond’s South 47 Farm, a 47-acre plot, and the mastermind behind the farm’s annual organic corn maze (open through 10/31). Now in his ninth year on the job, Calhoon not only designs the maze—new each year—but also personally hand cuts the twists and turns into the 5.5-acre cornfield with a hoe and a mower. Using agricultural themes to increase public appreciation for local farming, past designs have included a tractor, a horse and an American Gothic (based on the Grant Wood painting). A former career scientist with a Ph.D. in biophysics, Calhoon has earned another title for his résumé: Dr. Maze, which is proudly displayed on his license plate.

SM: Some farms buy predesigned layouts. Why do you choose to create them yourself?
RC: I look at our corn maze as being a participatory piece of artwork. It’s a new design every year, a new experience, and we want people to be excited about meeting the actual person who designed and cut it.
SM: What’s the hardest part about creating the corn maze?
RC: The biggest hurdle is the initial inspiration. What’s it gonna be? Once I have that, I rough out a sketch, put it on a grid and start refining it over and over again.
SM: What are your favorite designs from past corn mazes?
RC: That’s a hard question to answer, because it’s kind of like being asked, “Which is your favorite child?” The American Gothic one, graphically, was probably the most successful adaptation of an image to a maze.
SM: How do you transfer the design from paper to field?
RC: We make the field into a grid with flags that correspond to the lines of the graph paper. We put in 2,700 flags this year. When the corn is tall enough, I take my hoe and cut the design by hand as well as with a mower. I used to agonize over each and every cornstalk, because there is no eraser after you do it!
SM: Have you always loved mazes?
RC: I spent a lot of time in junior high school study hall drawing mazes. I sat around drawing multi-level mazes, but I could never get anyone to do them because they were too complicated.
SM: What’s your favorite part of creating the corn maze?
RC: I think it’s wandering around and watching how people react. We put a little sign at the end that says, “You did it! You finished the corn maze!” I get a kick out of the kids coming up, seeing that and screaming, “We did it!”