Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What makes a state fair a great state fair

Ah, the State Fair! An American phenomenon, its roots lie deep medieval fairs which were primarily about selling livestock and goods. But the State Fair and its smaller sibling, the County Fair, has its own rural American stamp on it. Where the medieval fair was about commerce (like the farmer's markets and art fairs of today), the American State Fairs were more about exhibition. Back in the 19th century, when State Fairs first started up, they were primarily displays of agricultural progress: the latest machines, the latest hybrid crops, the best breeds of cattle, as well as a place to trade in livestock. But it wasn't all seriousness. There were the shows, whether wild west extravaganzas or today's Monster Truck rallies. The Ferris Wheel debuted at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, starting a tradition of nausea-inducing mechanical rides that go around and around, and the midway, with its silly games and sillier prizes, has always been a hallmark of the fair.

But the contests! Contests made the fair as Aunt Sally took a ribbon for her peach preserves, Grandma took a prize for her hand-knitted lace, Uncle Henry won first place for growing the biggest turnip or pumpkin, and Cousin Luke's best Jersey cow won a trophy. Contests made the fair a personal event, and fairgoers eagerly flocked to the exhibition halls to see who won what and natter about how the judges must have been terribly biased or blind as a bat if they chose that awful Mrs. Whatsit's butter over Mother's!

So of course when we went to the Oregon State Fair yesterday we headed to the Jackman-Long building (alas, renamed recently for a brand of cookware that is hawked there every year) to check out the home arts entries. There, after a good deal of hunting, I found my blue ribbon socks and with some finagling (like holding the program to shade the glare on the glass) I got a photo of them in situ:

The cabinets were arranged in artful groups, some around themes (like fish-themed quilts displayed with bathing suits) rather than by entry categories, so finding things took some hunting. I can see why the fair officials might want to make pretty displays, but really, I'd like to see items in the same category displayed alongside one another so that it's easy to compare the prize winners in each category.

After some more hunting, I found the Fair Isle vest that Helen in our Ravelry group entered and took a blue ribbon for:

And she took another blue ribbon for this cardigan, knit from yarn her husband Kelly spun himself. (I didn't get a usable picture of the shawl he wove from more of his own handspun, that also took a Best of Class ribbon.)

Of course there were so many beautiful knitted, embroidered, woven, crocheted, quilted, tatted, beaded, etc. etc. etc. that I could have photographed, not to mention the decorated cakes, table arrangements, woodcarving, hobby displays, collections, and more, that I'd need a gallery to show off all the skillful winners. Here are just a couple of interesting things I found in the quilt displays. First, have a look at this interesting design. Nice colors, interesting graphics, right?

Now take a closer look:

See what those are? Those are the selvages from cut fabric! Someone found beauty and interest in the parts of the fabric that everyone else throws away, and pieced these little works of art into one big work of art. Which won a ribbon in its category, by the way.

This little quilt gave me a little nostalgic feeling. I embroidered when I was a kid, and remember day-of-the-week tea towel iron-on transfer embroidery patterns like these little Scotty dogs:

The quilt not only has the vintage embroidery designs, it also has vintage (or replica vintage) fabric:


The stitching on this floral quilt was stunning. Something like that would take me decades, I swear.


Here it is in close-up:


And then there's the "let's get everyone's attention" kind of quilting:


Which is exactly its purpose. It's a rolling quilting display, Have Quilt Will Travel, by a local quilting guild, to promote quilting:


My other favorite part of the fair is the animal barns. I didn't collect lots of pictures of cows and piggies and chickens and bunnies and llamas and goats and all, but here are some sheep looking like they're done with it all and ready to go home:

Next year, I'm hoping our group will have a whole lot more entered and totally sweep the county and state fairs in the knitting department.

3 comments:

Lupie said...

What amazing fiber arts and that car!
It must have been great fun.

puffthemagicrabbit said...

Yay for blue ribbons! Those quilts are amazing.

lunaticraft said...

WOW. That's some pretty awesome stuff. I love the selvage quilt.

 

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