At the Fair

Gardeners bring produce to a competition in the exhibit hall, and 4-H kids lead animals around the show ring. There is a pie auction, a skillet toss, and a demolition derby. In the evening teenagers promenade on the midway, riding the Scrambler and eating fried dough. The show has come to town and with it a chance at the spotlight, a once-a-year opportunity to elicit desire and admiration.

Many still-life paintings record not just the harvest’s bounty but also the proprietary boasting that accompanies it. The mood at the fair is similar, as are its formal devices. Vegetables and animals and cheap plastic toys are carefully arranged in recurring patterns like some extravagant horn of plenty. Though the fair is touted as a celebration of rural life, visitors often see the fruits without the labor. Dairy cows, washed and brushed, parade through the fresh sawdust of a show ring led by children dressed all in white. Sore backs, manure lagoons, and money worries usually remain on the farm.

Propaganda and partisanship are rife, but often the presentations are makeshift, as if the dedication required to create a seamless illusion is not worth the effort. The bingo hall has colorful striped table coverings, but its walls are made of exposed 2 x 4's. Perfect tomatoes lie on Styrofoam meat trays. Perhaps the self-assertive urge is tempered by a practicality and distrust of hyperbole. An eight-hundred-pound pumpkin is impressive, yet beyond the competition, the product is nearly worthless, useful only as fertilizer.

In many ways, the fair looks much as it did 75 years ago. Exhibit halls still house rows of canned goods and late summer vegetables while garish stripped awnings shelter rides and games on the midway. However, the social place occupied by the fair and the cultural dynamic it reflects have radically changed. One can imagine a time when events at the fair were an extension of daily life. Men who worked daily in the fields with a team of oxen got together once a year for a pulling contest and the prize went to those who were stronger or better trained or more able to turn on a dime. Ox pulls still happen at fairs, but save for the odd hippy logger, few people actually work with animals in this way anymore. Now, the animals are trained just for a contest of this sort. It is a discrete event, a staged performance separated from its original purpose; more like a farm museum than a farm. And so it goes with much of the fair. The participatory nature, the sense that people are staging the event for themselves has diminished and has been replaced more and more by a dynamic that emphasizes a performer and audience relationship. Even the demolition derby with its celebration of mechanical prowess and make shift functionalism in the face of physical danger is beginning to seem nostalgic. These days it’s often hard just to find the spark plugs under the hood of a modern car much less fix anything without a diagnostic computer. It is not news that many people today have an ever more tenuous relationship with not just the land and natural world but also with the physical world itself. It is interesting however, that this is reflected even in the fair which began as the embodiment and celebration of just such a connection and has since evolved to the point where this connection is now a display, a simulation to be gawked at.
Exhibition Hall Tent, Harmony Free FairExhibition Hall, Piscataquis Valley FairApples, Skowhegan FairSquash, Harmony Free FairFarm Stand Display, Agricultural Exhibition Center, Fryeburg FairTomatoes, Union FairPhotography Contest, Union FairDart Game, Fryeburg FairBingo Hall, Blue Hill FairSlide, Skowhegan FairLove and Kisses, Midway, Fryeburg Fair Shooting Gallery, Windsor FairStars and Stripes, Demolition Derby, Skowhegan FairWAZZ-U, Demolition Derby, Skowhegan FairBlue Station Wagon, Demolition Derby, Skowhegan FairBack Door to the Haunted Castle, Litchfield Fair Dunk Tank, Windsor FairChicken Barbecue, Windsor FairBuff Polish Rooster, Skowhegan FairRabbits, Common Ground FairHog Barn, Cumberland County FairMilking Parlor, Piscataquis Valley FairGrange Exhibit, Skowhegan Fair4-H Hall, Skowhegan FairWater Fountain, Fryeburg Fair