Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our State Fair

Cool dry air and an early arrival made this the most colorful state fair in recent memory. Luminescent green, orange, yellow, blue, and  red summer outfits, not to mention the balloons and jew jaws for sale at the souvenir stands.

There was no line at the Larpenteur lot when we arrived at 8:30, and we got a huge entry discount just for showing a library card.  

From the northern entry you can start the day with a visit to the antique tractors followed by an order of walleye cakes at Giggle's Campfire Grill; walk through Ron Sharra's nearby north woods t-shirt shop for a bit more outdoor ambiance, and then head over to the Art Building, which has just opened and is not yet crammed with people.

Fantasy artworks in pastel colors are long out of fashion, and so, it seems, are enormous collages made of images cut from old glossy magazines. Images of old junk cars and grain elevators seem also to have lost their caché, though you're still going to see many carefully wrought images of mournful or frisky pets, photos of collapsing barns and farmhouses, and self-portraits of troubled individuals of every age and gender. No art show would be complete without a few complex watercolors of flowers, and also one or two with less conventional subjects, such as this year's "De-icing the Delta 747."

Perhaps the most effective of the "concept" pieces was a sculpture of a reclining woman crafted entirely from piano parts (see above). Two of the black-and-white photos that made the cut were interesting in part simply because they were so big. One, maybe 4 x 4 feet, was an image of a cliff and beach on the North Shore, sort of close up. The other, roughly the same size, was a photo taken at ground level of a little girl drawing something in chalk on the sidewalk in from of First Avenue in memory of Prince. Both photos had wonderful clarity, contrast, and balance.

There were also two large aerial color photos of winter scenes in which the snow formed a uniform white background against which very small figures were ice fishing or dragging inner tubes up a hill. The patterns were as interesting as the perspective. But would that interest last?

The things I liked most tended to be free and easy, unconcerned with perfection or scope or clever concept. Here are a few examples, marred by reflections from the glass.

The pastel "Evanescence" by John A. Finkler was a breath of fresh air after a long wall of serious and meticulous pieces.

The photo "Tape Traces" by Paul W. Stapp had "depth" -- that is, the depth between the window glass with tape and the curtain behind it, which was a lovely pale green that doesn't reproduce well here.

A crow by Stanley Leonard was one of several nice woodcuts in the show.

"Lap Swimmer" by Mary Scrimgeour was simple but not dull. The sky, the water, the building facade, the palms all have character and dimension. And it could be hanging in your sun room for $1800.

And this rich pastel by Lisa Staufer also caught my eye -- especially the pale green on the details just under the roof-line. (I'm sure there's an architectural term for that.)

I liked this photo of a tackle-box by Steve Lang, just because. And I don't even fish!

And this watercolor by Susan Rupp caught my eye, and held onto it.

There were 126,354 people at the fair the day we went, so I guess it's not surprising that we ran into a few that we knew. We chatted with Lucinda Anderson in the Education Building, where she was tending the Montessori booth. She filled us in on a few of her daughter's adventures as a fledgling music producer in New Orleans. And down at the MELSA booth in front of the grandstand we said hi to Barb Taylor and Loretta Garrity, old colleagues and friends of Hilary's. 

An hour later, we bumped into another buddy, Dave Stevens, in the Agriculture Building. He was escorting an old family friend from Switzerland out of the Minnesota brewery wing of the spoke-like building, I think. They were feeling jolly as we shared our latest Scandinavian literary enthusiasms, and I urged him to acquaint his Swiss friend with the local crop art on display down another wing nearby. They don't make things like that in Zurich, I think.

The music wasn't bad. We listened to a trio from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra play a sprightly piece by Haydn and an astringent but interesting arrangement of Hungarian folk tunes by Zoltan Kodály in from of the grandstand. The Villa-Lobos number didn't fare well in the gusty weather and we moved on to the chicken barn and the all-you-can-drink milk truck. It used to be a quarter; now it's $2! 

A few minutes later we found some shade on a covered swing where we were joined by a salesman from Paso Robles, California. He told us all about the fairs in Texas and California, and about how the company got started, before finally letting us know—well, that was his job—that the swing we were sitting on cost $2699. "At our first fair, in Reno, we sold seven in a week and thought we were riding high," he said. "Here it wouldn't be unusual for us to sell fifty in a day."

We ambled up the hill to the Leinenkugel Lodge Bandshell in time to hear some Texas Swing performed by the Quebe Sisters. We also caught a ballad or two by the Irish Brigade at nearby International Market Square. At the other end of the long covered bazaar a young man was playing Russian folk tunes on an accordion he could hardly lift.

And then we went home. With a brief stop in the Food Building for a tasty fish taco along the way.

I have condensed six hours of rambling here into a few rambling paragraphs, neglecting to mention the political booths, the handicraft building, the rock display at the geological society booth, the stuffed animals in the DNR building, or the wonderful Eco-building, where well-informed state employees and volunteers told us about air quality issues and the little bugs that thrive in clean water. One woman there recommended that we prune the dead branches out of our maple trees. Another recommended that we clean out our chimney, which hasn't received much attention in thirty years.

Good idea.

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