People peered past the barricades into the Fine Arts Building at the Crow Wing County Fair Tuesday as judges moved steadily between entries inside.
Purple, blue, red and white ribbons dangled from strings as assistants marked each entry.
Fair Judge Elaine Johnson, Brainerd, examined a jar of corn relish looking for signs of correct processing time and method, the right amount of liquids and appearance. A passer-by offered to be a judge and then thought better of it considering the potential for an unpleasant surprise. The food should look good enough to eat, although the sealed canned goods are not actually sampled.
Sharon Cronquist (left) and Gail Sedlachek, both of Brainerd, assisted Crow Wing County Fair Judge Mavis McGuire, Aitkin, as she matched ribbons to garment entries Tuesday afternoon in the Fine Arts Building. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
Inside judges were busy going through entries -- garment making, handwork, quilts, doll making, photography, paintings and drawings, canned goods and bakery goods. Back in the day when fairs were truly the center of summer activities in rural communities, blue ribbons and sweepstakes winners earned high bragging rights. Sewing talents were not just appreciated, the skills were a living necessity.
Times have changed. The last few years have seen a marked drop in entries, judges said, recalling days when the dolls filled entire display areas. Today, they occupy a fraction of the space. Demands of modern America may have changed the relationship with the fair.
But Johnson, who enjoys entering the fair when she is not a judge, said the satisfaction of winning has not diminished. She said people are proud of what they can accomplish and they want that designation of "best in show."
"I love food preservation," Johnson said, pausing after checking a salsa entry, the largest category among the canned goods. Johnson is a University of Minnesota consultant for food preservation. For years she entered the fair's open class competition. She said many people are aware of it because of their 4-H activities, but the competition is open to everyone.
Judges and assistants encouraged more entries in the future.
Ribbons were placed on canned goods as the entries were judged Tuesday afternoon. Corn relish, pickles, sauces and salsas lined the shelves in the display area of the Fine Arts Building. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
Patsy Athman, baked food judge, cut a small slice of a tiny apple pie. The pie was tasty but the crust needed work.
"The sugar overload job," she said to describe her duties. "Believe it or not you do get really tired of cookies and 11 different kinds of banana bread, but it's fun to see the variety and different kinds of ways they present it."
An assistant unveiled a full-size coconut cream pie as the next entry. Murmurs could be heard nearby and helpers moved closer to the table to inspect the pie.
"There are some of them and you just go 'wow,'" Athman said.
Across the large open room, Mavis McGuire was examining seams as she moved through the garment entries. McGuire, of Aitkin, has a degree in home economics and has been a fair judge since the late 1960s. She looked to see if the garment makers took time to clip threads and whether the entry was clean and practical.
Crow Wing County Fair Judge Joyce Pappenfus (left), St. Cloud, and her assistants, June Erickson and Carol Hillman, checked the quilt entries, including a graduation quilt that incorporated photographic images, in the Fine Arts Building Tuesday afternoon. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
Compared to the past there are just not as many people taking part in crafts such as sewing, knitting and doll making, she said. And entries, which at one time included wool coats and complete outfits for women, are often less elaborate. McGuire said the entries they did receive required talent. The standouts were placed on a separate table of blue-ribbon winners that would compete for champion ribbons. One included a child's white dress filled with tiny sewing details that was obviously designed for a special occasion.
Once the fair allowed a seamstress to show off talents. Then clothes became less expensive to buy off the rack than to make at home.
"Part of it is now fabrics are expensive," McGuire said. "You have to be someone who likes to sew. ... It has to be a love that you have in order to do this kind of stuff. It's a craft."
She pointed to a christening dress. "You know this person has taken a lot of time."
Joyce Pappenfus, a home economist from St. Cloud, judged the handwork and quilt categories. She's been a fair judge for 33 years.
"Brainerd needs to know they have some wonderful quilters in the hand and machine quilting area," Pappenfus said.
Fair medallion clues
Clue No. 1. The hunt has begun. Inside the fairgrounds it shall be found, by someone who looks all around.
Clue No. 2. This area has quite a view. The medallion looks down at the grass. Better look now -- before time has passed.
Talent entries sought
The Crow Wing County Fair extended the deadline for talent contest entries, which must include a video and entry form, to 3 p.m. Thursday.
Pappenfus encourages more people in the community to enter. The quilt work display is annually a popular one among fairgoers. The fair added a clear plastic barrier to protect quilts and other handwork entries from thousands of passing hands as people tour the entries this week. Workers in the building will open entries or bring them closer for view upon request.
Pappenfus suggested the fair reconstruct its categories to recognize handmade quilts and machine quilting separately to create at least two champions. She said she has been to the quilt shows in Brainerd and knows there are others in the community who did not enter their worthy work in the fair.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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