Mike’s Maze in Sunderland, MA is far from being a typical, corny maze. The maze, located on a 300-year old asparagus, strawberry, and sweet-corn farm, is constructed entirely from corn stalks. Every year, someone from the farm cuts an elaborate image into the corn to create the maze.
And we really mean elaborate.
At their roots, corn mazes are not overly-complicated. Grow a field of corn and knock down or cut paths to make a maze. Mike’s Maze is something different entirely.
GPS – From Love to Hate to Love Again
In the year 2000, Mike Wissemann and landscape artist Will Sillin thought they had come up with a revolutionary idea – use GPS technology to mow down an image into a field of corn. Well, GPS technology was not quite up to par in the year 2000 with what we know today and the image came out less than ideal. GPS images technology used was only accurate within feet, not the centimeter accuracy we are used to today.
“The whole thing was pretty coarse,” Wissemann said.
After that year, Sillin tossed out the GPS concept for creating a work of art on Mike’s farm. His next trick? Math.
2001 rolled around and Sillin came up with the idea of treating Mike’s cornfield like a piece of graphing paper. Wissemann made sure to plant the corn in extremely straight rows and Sillin cut out stalks of corn from 6-foot square sections of the field of corn to come up with the maze pictures.
This process went on for several years and eventually Sillin shrunk his grid squares to half their original size. These 3-foot square sections of the field of corn allowed for even finer details to be added to the maze and took advantage of Wissemann’s extremely straight rows.
In 2010, Sillin came up with a process that would push his creativity and mathematical ability even further. With the realization that the farm had a mechanical planter that planted at regular intervals, Sillin began crafting maze pictures that treated each individual stalk of corn as an ink mark – similar to pointillism.
Sillin used this tedious process of creating his maze pictures for only two years. It proved to be much too hard and took too much time.
In 2013, GPS technology had advanced quite a bit from the first attempt at using it in 2001. Sillin brought in a mower owned by Rob Stouffer, the owner of Precision Mazes in Missouri.
There is a small catch to this process though. The mower is five feet wide. Any details finer than a five-foot wide stroke must be cut by hand. Those are handled by Jess Marsh Wissemann, the current designer of the maze pictures and Mike’s daughter-in-law.
“If I want to do any really detailed areas, I have to keep in mind that I’m the one that’s going to have to go out there and cut down the stalks by hand,” Jess said.
How does that work?
The Final Evolution of Tech for Mike’s Maze: Drones
After a failed attempt at using GPS technology, years of painstakingly tedious work, and the return of more advanced GPS technology, Mike’s Maze finally has settled on the use of drones to finalize their creations.
After the large outline version of the image is cut using GPS technology and a tractor by Precision Mazes, Jess heads out into the fields equipped with a pair of gloves and a drone.
The drone transmits live video of the maze picture to Jess on the ground. She will grab hold of individual stalks and shake them to identify which part of the image she is standing near. Every stalk makes a difference, especially in designs that intricate details like lettering.
Zeroing in on specific stalks that need removal allow for Jess to create custom type or even have details as fine as the pupil in an eyeball. Design restrictions using this process are virtually nonexistent.
Mike’s Maze Never Fails to Amaze
Since the inception of this concept by Mike Wissemann in 2001, it has been a marvel to behold. Every year, crowds anticipate the release of the annual design.
Jess, a former art student, has crafted the designs since 2015 when Mike retired.
Mike’s Maze is not the only attraction to create an image in a field of corn and certainly not the only farm to have a corn maze, but they’ve worked hard to perfect the process. Every year their designs get a little more intriguing.
As our technology advances, it will be exciting to see the design opportunities that arise for Mike’s Maze in the future. GPS and drone technologies are improving year over year, what could next year hold?