Well-removed from Big Tex and the Midway, past the Cotton Bowl, sits the Creative Arts Building at Fair Park. While it’s not the State Fair of Texas’ sexiest attraction, the sweeping structure is a hub for a relatively unknown subculture: the competitors.
Competitions at the State Fair are aplenty. Among the arts and crafts contests: painting, sketching, needlepoint and Lego architecture. Food-contest categories feature baking with KARO syrup, chili, chocolate, relish, jam, SPAM creations, bread baking and cooking with cheese, to name a few. Collections contest categories run the gamut from apothecary items and thimbles to sports memorabilia and pipes. There are fashion-design contests and diorama competitions. The list goes on and on. We tracked down several neighborhood residents who, through experience, understand the spirit of State Fair rivalry.
Susan Randall may have one of the most eccentric creative arts entries the State Fair has ever seen. It all started when she received the book “Crafting with Cat Hair” by Kaori Tsutaya for Christmas one year.
So she got to work on her newest hobby with her cats, Jimmie Violin and Pink Steve, as her material.
“I had to wait until the weather got warmer for my cats to start shedding,” Randall says, which is about the time she starts gearing up for the fair.
This year she created five finger puppets in a “cat diorama,” complete with grass and a white picket fence. Jimmie Violin is brown, and Pink Steve is white, so Randall could mix their hair to create marble patterns. She submitted the piece in the folk art category and took second place.
Randall entered several other — more traditional — creations in the State Fair contests: a knitted stuffed rabbit that placed fourth, 10 canned food items grown from her own backyard garden garnering both first- and third-place ribbons, and a variety of jams, jellies, butters, pickled vegetables, relish and chutney.
Randall says she wasn’t sure how the cat hair finger puppets were going to be received. “The whole idea was nutsy, but I took a gamble and I’m glad I did.” She says she’s been laughing ever since.
This is his first time entering a State Fair contest, but Jay Hoppenstein is no stranger to photography competitions. He’s a member of the Dallas Camera Club and has placed in several of the organization’s monthly contests.
Hoppenstein, a 72-year-old retired Presbyterian Hospital surgeon, has been toting around a camera since he was a teenager.
“I’d say I’m a serious amateur,” he says.
The State Fair photography contests require that the photos be of Texas subjects and taken within the last 18 months. Hoppenstein entered two photos — one color photo of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge at sunrise, which received an honorable mention, and a black-and-white of a World War II veteran and his grandson aboard the USS Battleship Texas. He’s particularly proud of that image, and the judges seemed to like it, too, awarding him first place in the photo contest.
“It’s more journalistic,” he says. “It’s not manipulated. We’d been on the ship for about an hour, touring and taking photos. Most of the other visitors on board were just getting in our way.”
Then he came upon the scene of the veteran who was holding his young grandson up to look through the viewfinder of the ship’s gun.
“It was just a wonderful moment,” Hoppenstein says.
Every summer, the Gilmore siblings busy themselves in the family’s crafting studio above the garage, preparing their entries for the State Fair. All three kids, two sisters and one brother, are working away at the same hobby — quilting.
“I like it when older ladies come up to me and say how they love that young people are quilting. It’s kind of nice,” says Jane Gilmore, 20.
An Ursuline Academy graduate who attends Northwestern University majoring in biochemistry, Jane still spends summers at home, quilting with her sister Linda, 16, and her brother John, 18. They each create their own pieces for the fair.
Last year, Linda took first place in the juniors division, and John came in second. Jane also has come away with first-, second- and third-place prizes during the past eight years.
Their mother, Linda Burk, turned the kids on to quilting as way to express their creativity.
“These are complex patterns, almost like puzzles,” Burk says. “It’s getting them to think outside the box.”
Quilting may not be the hottest trend among young people, but Jane is proud of her work.
“It gives me another reason to go to the fair. I like to go with my friends and say, ‘Hey, let’s go see what’s going on in the Creative Arts Building.’ I get to show off a bit.”
The first year Edith Ingraham entered a State Fair contest, she won a blue ribbon.
“That’s the way I got hooked,” she says.
So, every year since 1983, she has been coming back, vying to win another, and another.
“I usually end up with ribbons.”
She’s best known for her culinary skills, having won first place in the 1996 Dallas Morning News Holiday Cookie Contest.
However, Ingraham’s entries span several categories. This year, she entered a knitted piece, polymer clay jewelry, embroidery and a steam punk mask like those worn at Mardi Gras parties.
At the fair, Ingraham also will compete in the ice cream making contest against her daughter, Stephanie Hollowell. It’s an interesting match-up, since Hollowell learned everything she knows about cooking from her mother, and both have racked up awards for their recipes over the years.
“We’re both cutthroat,” Hollowell jokes. “We’re in it for the glory.”
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