YAKIMA, Wash. -- Diane Jones, a 4-H superintendent at the Central Washington State Fair for 20 years, shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
She’s been a 4-H leader for about 45 years, and that’s after being in 4-H herself while growing up in Goldendale. Her eyes twinkle as she speaks enthusiastically about her part in the fair as she wears a pair of bunny slippers and a pink and brown shirt emblazoned with an abstract pig’s face on the front.
“From year to year, you’re watching the kids grow up,” she says. “They come in here scared little marbles and they go out — some of them — professionals.”
She now lives in Naches and says one of the best parts of doing what she does is when adults return to thank her for what they learned in 4-H, including public speaking and record-keeping.
Jones was part of a group of fair employees and volunteers getting ready for the start of the fair this week inside the Modern Living Building. The building, a rambling white structure flanked by well-manicured flowers and greenery, is a short walk from the parking lot outside the SunDome. Items inside showcase a variety of crafts and handmade goods, from food to quilts to painted rocks.
Crafts of all sizes
Marti Sondgeroth, who has been the crafts superintendent for four years, was working nearby. She started as a volunteer in the early 1980s.
Crafts cover everything from jewelry and decorated wine glasses to bead work and open card creations, which will be sent to members of the armed forces to send to loved ones.
There are a few new class divisions this year. In decorative art, there’s fly tying for fly fishing, mushroom art and PVC creations. One new craft division — painted rocks — boasts several entries.
“It’s just for something new and different,” Sondgeroth said as she pointed out some of the entries. “Every year, I try to add something new and we’ve been talking about doing it for a couple of years.”
Among the woodworking entries atop nearby tables were examples of intarsia, where the woodworker cuts different types of wood into shapes fitted together for visually stunning mosaics. The wood is neither painted nor stained, and the creations are crafted through the use of the natural colors.
Most everything in the crafts department had been judged by Wednesday, but the names of winners won’t be released until the fair opens Friday.
Entries began arriving two weeks ago, and superintendents such as Sondgeroth have been working tirelessly since. After giving a brief tour of the building’s interior, she went into her office to print more information on how judging works at the fair.
As she talked, Hal Walter, a lapidary who will be giving a weekend demonstration on cutting stones, shaping and polishing, arrived to store some items.
As a member of the Yakima Rock and Mineral Club, he’s been doing demonstrations on and off since about 2004.
“It helps bolster the club and it gets people interested in the minerals of the Pacific Northwest,” he says.
He encourages people to bring in items to identify.
As a craftsman, he says he specializes in crosses, but he also creates other items such as bow ties.
The categories for items entered for judging in the Modern Living Building go out during the summer, said fair spokesman Rob Phillips. Contestants complete entry forms and turn them in for judges to taste and view before awarding ribbons.
“It’s not big money, but you can win some money,” Phillips said. “I know for sure it’s over $100,000 the fair pays out in premiums every year.”
Funding for the prizes comes from the state Department of Agriculture, Phillips said.
Dolls on display
As the minutes ticked closer to midafternoon Wednesday, Star Allen stood with arms akimbo looking inside a large glass case.
“Let’s move Bernadette over there,” she called to Mary Karel, who was rearranging porcelain dolls in a life-size display complete with furniture and a miniature piano. Allen uses the doll’s names to refer to them.
They’d been at it since Monday, and Allen said this may be their best year yet.
“I was the building superintendent for over 10 years, and when I gave it up I never really gave it up,” admits Allen, who owns Star Baby’s Porcelain Doll Studio where she teaches porcelain doll-making.
The entries have all come from her students, and though Allen’s not judging, she wants to be sure everything is properly and prominently displayed.
Mason jars and more
The coming days inside the Modern Living Building represent the fruits of artistic passions nurtured with constant creative energy and focus.
Denise Ball is the superintendent for everything food. Some of it’s dried, some is canned and there are baked goods of all kinds.
One of this year’s new competitions involves ;mixes in Mason jars. Contestants have submitted all sorts of combinations, including taco seasonings, cookie mixes and facial creams — everything edible — with affixed recipe cards explaining what to do with the ingredients.
Ball said she’s been with the fair off and on for about 50 years. She served in the U.S. Air Force, but she’s never missed a fair, always finding a way to return every year.
“It’s just fun to do,” she says. “There’s a lot of wonderful people you work with. We spend a lot of time laughing.”
Sisters Cecilia Bloxham and Jeannette Lizotte are superintendents for the threads department.
Bloxham lives in Bellevue, but Lizotte persuaded her to help out about 10 years ago and she’s been at it ever since.
Threads submissions include clothing, accessories, stuffed animals and household items. There are examples of needlework, crocheting, knitting, weaving and spinning, felting and wearable art. There are more than 100 quilts, and that total doesn’t include the wall-hanging or children’s entries.
Bloxham and Lizotte spend a tremendous amount of time each year gathering display props at yard sales, estate sales, thrift shops and other sources while formulating ideas for how to display everything entered in their department. Many items are shown on a series of “vignettes,” which top round displays 16 feet wide with seasonal, holiday and other interesting themes.
“All of our vignettes are exhibit-driven,” Bloxham explains as her sister nods in agreement and watches. “We have ideas and we try to keep it within a theme.”
For the Halloween vignette, they’ve got a black door reminiscent of the kind you’d knock on for candy come Oct. 31 and a seasonal greeting hanging from the doorknob. There’s also a giant knitted eyeball hanging on the display, felted pumpkins adorning trick-or-treat bags, purses featuring Dia de los Muertos images and more.
As the sisters proudly walk around everything they’ve assembled for spectators, they continue making adjustments — some minor and some major.
Meanwhile, more tables are carried inside and additional groups of people move around inside the 80-year-old building where creativity, attention to detail and innovation combine for another year at the Central Washington State Fair.