The following is a press release issued by the Redwood Empire Fire:
It’s been two years since the last Ukiah Summer Fair, and this year, the staff who manage, judge and create the displays in the Redwood Empire Fair buildings are feeling mixed emotions: gratitude that the Fair has returned after the Covid-related hiatus, sadness that some “regular” participants have fallen away, and concerned that more young people aren’t participating in one of the most time-honored traditions of regional fairs: the hundreds of competitive categories where kids and adults can show off their skills, receive public recognition and even collect cash prizes.
This year’s Quilt-based theme brought out a diverse number of entrants, and the Home Arts Building walls are filled with entrants. Building Superintendent Loraine Patton notes the quilts are judged based on color, workmanship and appliqueing- whether by hand or machine-quilted.
Entrants identify as beginners, intermediate, advanced or professional quilters. This year’s first-place Quilt Challenge using the Fair Theme was won by Caroline Salcedo.
A large quilt created by the Grapevine Quilters of Mendocino County is the organization’s 2023 Opportunity Quilt. A one-dollar donation buys a chance to win it, with the drawing taking place in May of 2023.
This year’s Fine Arts Building continues to be a Covid testing site and will be operating under their regular testing schedule for the duration of the fair. To that end, Fine Arts exhibits have been merged with the Agricultural and Horticultural exhibits, and are being displayed in the Floral Building.
Fine Arts Superintendent Brenda Hodges has been overseeing Fine Arts displays for nearly 20 years. She and her intrepid Fair Affiliate Tonya Roysum have worked side-by-side at the Redwood Empire Fair and the Mendocino County Fair for many years. Their dedication to the artful display of community entries has become a passion, with both women working for months to design and implement the fair’s annual themes.
“We usually have the theme picked out in January or February,” says Hodges, a fifth generation Ukiahan who is also a fine artist that creates the poster art for the Fair. She works closely with Fair CEO Jennifer Seward and by May, a poster and thematic design is formalized.
“Then Tonya and I start collecting props,” Hodges continues. “We come down, pull items from the back barns and set up a preliminary design, not knowing what entries we’re going to have- so we create a floor plan that can be modified as entries arrive.”
Hodges creates vignettes- entries placed into similar categories, and once the judges complete their work, the team gets busy, carefully clipping and tagging all the entries for hanging or display.
“Brenda selects the paintings and groups them together, finding similar themes and homes,” says Roysum. This year, because of the juxtaposition of Fine Arts with Horticulture, Hodges plans to group floral arrangements with floral-related art.
“Tonya takes care of the jewelry cases,” says Hodges. “I just learned Brenda’s reasoning,” Roysum smiles. “You don’t want to know what’s under all that decorative cloth. We’re scroungers,” Hodges laughs.
“My goal is to make the room beautiful. It’s a basic format that encompasses a construction process,” says Hodges. And this year, they’ve taken on the design and display of the fruits, vegetables, plants and exterior gardens, with the Floral Building seamlessly flowing from one area of interest to the next.
“It’s so sad we only have four days here,” Hodges notes. And like Loraine Patton, she is concerned young people are not participating in the fair in greater numbers. “If we can’t get young people into this, it will slowly dissipate. My goal is to stick around so I can teach the next generation everything I know.”
“The Junior Building is for everyone- not just 4-H and FFA,” Patton notes. And it was Hodges, years ago, who lobbied for the opportunity for youth unaffiliated with the two Ag organizations to compete side-by-side, which they do to this day.
“There really is a competitive category for everyone,” Patton continues. “There’s everything from baking, sewing, prepared foods, collections, knitting, welding and poetry. We hope the younger generation will discover the joy in competing at the Fair,” she concludes.