State Fair of West Virginia now accepting ‘home arts and garden’ entries

By Jennifer Sprouse Smith for RealWV,

Each year, thousands of fairgoers soak in the vibrant displays that adorn the shelves and line the walls of the West Virginia Building at the State Fair of West Virginia.

Many are familiar with seeing the pop-up garden of fresh cut flowers, basket loads of vegetables, artful displays of crafts, wall-to-wall quilts draping from the ceiling, and mouthwatering baked goods, but few are familiar with how the exhibits make their way into the big production. Their presence is more than just a showcase of the talent and hobbies from exhibitors across the state, but rather a visual storybook of a culture rich in tradition.

Timmo and Maria Schleiff, winners of the 2022 Victor Tessaro award (judge’s choice for best overall vegetable) with their prize winning garlic. Photo by Jennifer Sprouse Smith.

Just like the quilts stitched together through hard working fingers, the history behind the home arts and garden displays is stitched into each year’s exhibition to pay homage to the past and to showcase the evolving arts of Appalachian heritage. From gardening for sufficiency to crafting out of resourcefulness, the home arts and garden show highlights the hobbies and skills that were once a necessary part of life that have now become time-honored traditions passed on from generation to generation. Seasoned exhibitors and novices alike are encouraged to enter their skills into the competition to keep the traditions running strong.

Agricultural competitions manager, Alexis Porterfield-Mulcahy, remarked, “I think it is a great
opportunity to showcase the talent that is in West Virginia. Often times we get passed over in the fine arts capacity and I think this really gives us an opportunity to showcase that part of us.”

Porterfield-Milcahy noted the importance of keeping the traditions alive by stating “I think a lot of what we showcase in the West Virginia building could easily become a dying art. We’re at this precipice of modernization and technology, and it is easy for kids to think that their vegetables just come from the grocery store or that the blankets they use can only come from the store.”

The understanding of how these products are grown and can be made at home is what the state fair’s exhibits strive to teach. The hope to inspire fairgoers young and old is what drives the tradition of the home arts and garden competitions.

“By showing that people are still growing, making, and doing can serve as inspiration,” Porterfield-Mulcahy explained. “I was personally inspired by the fair. I picked up sewing because I was looking at all the quilts and thought that if they can make a quilt, I can make one too.”

There is no age limit on inspiration, and with classes for both juniors and adults, anyone can learn to carry on the traditional arts.

As part of youth outreach efforts, Porterfield-Mulcahy teamed up with Carnegie Hall to visit a few schools in the region in hopes to bridge the gap between children being interested sightseers at the fair to hopefully becoming lifelong exhibitors.

The outreach program focused on students making their own conservation caterpillars, which they cut out from egg cartons, decorated to look like caterpillars, and then filled with soil and seeds to grow their own vegetables. The initiative was to demonstrate how easy it is for individuals, even kids, to grow their own food at home. The outreach program was also created in hopes that the children can go on to showcase their produce at the state fair. Making entries and competitions accessible to everyone is of the utmost importance to all those involved in the production of the fair.

While many of the competitions have proven to be tried and true, fair officials are always adding new competitions to the lineup and improving upon existing ones to better serve their exhibitors and their passion for the arts. Among some of the changes for this year’s showcase, Porterfield-Mulcahy and the team have increased the number of entries allowed in some of the special contests to accommodate the growing interest they have seen in many categories, such as the barn quilt painting and the flea market flip contests.

The Agricultural Products department is bringing back the once-popular edible window box contest, while an adult Legos class has been added to the Fine Arts and Crafts department. The Food department has also added a special “3 in a Pan” cooking contest to celebrate the memory of long-time friend of the fair, Clyde Ball, who was known for his famous 3 in a pan dish that he cooked every year for the West Virginia Building’s superintendents and staff. These are only a few of the exciting changes that the fair has in store for the 2023 year in addition to the building’s new improvements, including finished floors, newly painted ceilings to make the quilt colors pop, and a newly painted exterior. Efforts to increase hands-on activities in each department are also underway. “Craft-ivities, if you will,” Porterfield-Mulcahy jokingly named them as she listed off origami, wood burning, clay sculpting, vegetable planting, and crop/seed art as being on the list of potential activities that individuals can hope to experience during their visit in the West Virginia Building.

Demonstrating these arts and hobbies is a crucial part of keeping the deeply rooted Appalachian traditions alive and inspiring others to start their own journey into their preservation and continuation.

While some special contests have a limited number of exhibitors allowed, the majority of categories and classes boast an unlimited number of entrants, leading to the vast display of color and variety that so many fairgoers enjoy each year. If you have ever wondered how to get started in the competition, the process is simple, and new exhibitors are always welcome. Entries are now open on the State Fair of West Virginia website at www.statefairofwv.com under the competitions page. Paper entries can also be obtained from the office located within the fairgrounds. Departments in which to enter include Agricultural Products, Fine Arts and Crafts, Foods, Needlework, and Flowers.

Not only is it exciting to win a blue ribbon at the state fair, but exhibitors also enjoy cash prizes and generous contributions from various sponsors. You don’t want to miss out on the excitement of this year’s competitions, so be sure to register your entries by July 14 th . Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to also enter if you know someone that has a particular interest or knack for any one of the featured categories.

Detailed descriptions and rules for each department can be found online or by contacting the fair office at 304- 645-1090 for further information. The cost is only $5 to become an exhibitor, and entrants can enter as many classes as they wish under the one-time registration fee. Young or old, beginner or experienced, anyone can try their luck in competing at the State Fair of West Virginia. You may even be the next big winner!

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