The state of the arts at the Minnesota State Fair
August 31, 2007 - 22:38.
Every year I attend the State Fair, and every year I do it differently. Last year two girlfriends and I went to cheer for a pal who’s a TV reporter and was supposed to be broadcasting live from the fairgrounds, only to learn that she’d been held up in the newsroom by a breaking scandal. So we ate some fatty food and listened to a band and rode some overpriced rides and shopped but didn’t buy anything and then went home.
The year before, I went with a guy friend who encouraged me to buy everything from shoe polish to gardening tools, and then asked to borrow them.
This year I went on my own, as a volunteer for BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools) at the Education Minnesota booth in—where else?—the Education Building. It was fun! After my 30-minute stint reading to a passel of cute, curious kids, I mapped out my “60-minute arts and culture route” and stepped into the drizzle on Cosgrove Street.
Taking a left, I stopped first at the Agriculture/Horti-culture Building—or rather, outside of it, where brilliant examples of Midwestern plantings reminded me that summer is not over. Inside, I couldn’t resist thrusting my nose into the branches of the fragrant Christmas trees, and suddenly the idea of winter seemed okay.
One of my favorite stops in this building is the seed display. A sign says, “The largest known seed, the coconut, may weigh up to 50 pounds. The smallest, the Kalanchoe orchid, has 2.5 million seeds per ounce.” And then you see a phalanx of seed types, showing the number of each in one ounce. They’re beautiful! I like to visit them because they remind me of the corn box and the bean box at Conklin’s Nursery School, where I spent many happy hours pre-Kindergarten, loading the kernels and the legumes into orange Tonka truck beds and steering them on roads of my own making.
Exiting the building on the west side, I breezed right past the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers Cabin. But then I felt guilty ignoring our state’s history, so I turned around and went inside. There, in the back, sat Gene Ewer, a bearded, bespectacled man in striped overalls and a straw hat, presiding over a display case filled with folded-paper animals. Not quite origami, these are creatures made from patterns that he fashions himself, cutting out eye holes and details with manicure scissors, the way we made paper snowflakes in gradeschool. When his granddaughter asked him for a book on how to make them, and he couldn’t find one, he wrote one. Then another! Both books are for sale at the fair (one is $6 and the other is around $20).
With a smile on my face and a bright green paper butterfly in my pocket, I continued north on Underwood, then took a quick left on Dan Patch Avenue to visit the Grandstand. Sweeping through the place quickly to avoid triggering my shopaholic tendencies, I paused only for one great visual: marbles! Glowing from the inside, there were marbles the color of salmon roe and marbles like a tropical pool; glass pearls of black and white and seashell pink; bright yellow ones like lemon drops and grassy green ones, too. Children were scooping them up, counting them, cajoling dollars out of parents right and left. “Everyone wants to take a picture of them,” said the Marble Lady as I fished for my camera.
Then, just ‘round the corner, I spied Groth Music. I love that store. It’s where I buy karaoke CDs. At the fair, they had a DVD that I’ve been looking for: Animusic 2, a compilation of digitally created music and computer animation, in which fantastical instruments come to life in pulsating splendor. It makes me want to buy a really big TV.
Escaping from the Grandstand $23 down, I turned back north on Underwood, lingering outside of the Butterfly House to watch the placid creatures (are they drugged?) landing on children’s sleeves and baseball caps, and subjecting themselves to fingers pulling on their delicate wings. This is depressing, I thought, recalling the butterflies at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, who, while in captivity, fly out of arms’ reach of tourists.
Circling up to Randall Avenue and back east toward Cosgrove Street, I spied my ultimate destination: the Fine Arts Center. The State Fair’s juried art exhibition never disappoints me because it’s of the people. Professional painters, sculptors and photographers enter their work alongside everyday shutterbugs who happened to capture a moment, and commune with wannabe watercolorists and multimedia crafters who aren’t half bad. Typically there are 2,000+ entries and only 300-something get selected.
This year, as usual, I disagree with some of the awards, and if left in the building after closing, I would switch a few ribbons around. But for art-lovers, this building is not to be missed—especially this year because it is 100 years old.
One of the award-winners I did agree with is 2003 U of M grad Nicholas Bly Pope’s first-prize pencil drawing, Patch of Earth ($24, 900, if you are so inclined). Its amazing detail fools the eye into thinking it’s a black-and-white photo, but it’s not. Another is second-place winner Daniel Scott Volenec’s Eve in charcoal, wax and pastel. That face just comes alive and holds your gaze.
I also liked Allen Brewer’s Peace in the Valley ($2,500), painted in acrylic on a wood-framed glass church window. It’s lowbrow art in the context of religion and antiquity, and it’s pretty. I think it should have won an honorable mention, at least.
It’s always fun to see familiar names at art exhibits, too. I found a color photograph by Stuart Klipper, a painting by Yuri Arajs, and (among the award-winners!) a charcoal/pastel drawing called Cloud 1 by Austin, Minnesota’s own Darin Rinne, who hung out with one of my brothers in high school.
On my way back past the Education Building, I would have stopped for a tour of Creative Activities (quilting and other handicrafts), but I kept to my 60-minute schedule and still met so much traffic that I showed up late for dinner with friends. That’s a good every-other-year building for me, anyway.
Note that because of the aforementioned dinner plans, I didn’t eat a thing at the fair this year. No pronto pups. No pickles on a stick. No Tom Thumb doughnuts. Not even cotton candy (though I was tempted). This year my feast was stricly visual—and my appetite for eye-candy well satisfied.