Iron skillets sailed through the air, tractors pulled their hardest, knives shucked away at oysters and saws worked their way through logs this past weekend at the 149th annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair. And although the rides have headed to the ferry, the animals have all been returned to their barns and the artwork is off the walls of the great hall, the people who participated in all these events will be back for more next year.
“It was a great weekend, everything went very smoothly,” fair manager Eleanor Neubert said yesterday as she and the fair staff began to pack away this year’s memories. “The weather cooperated, and even with a few scattered showers on Sunday, it didn’t keep the people away.”
Ms. Neubert said attendance was about the same as last year as was the number of exhibitors; although there were nine fewer barn exhibits, total entries were slightly higher. An impromptu addition to the fair this year was the fire dancer who performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and drew large crowds.
Friday night brought out kids who had saved up money all year long to buy the all-you-can-ride bracelet, hollering with excitement at the top of the Ferris wheel, screaming with fear and fun as they rotated in midair in the Salt and Pepper Shaker and rejoicing as they reached the top of the climbing wall.
Families gathered around picnic tables to feast on the fair food: fried dough, vegetable tempura, sausage and peppers, corn on the cob and cotton candy. People even came back for second helpings of fried Snickers candy bars.
Fair food fits perfectly with next year’s theme, Timeless Traditions, for the 150th anniversary of the fair. Next year will bring back special categories that were important to the fair 150 years ago, such as cheese, lace work and ploughing, as well as a parade to precede the week’s events. Those interested in the parade are asked to submit an application by June 1, 2011.
The fair is indeed a timeless tradition, welcoming each year the same activities like the dog show, draft horse show and woodsmen’s contest; often with the same winners too. It’s a comfort to walk into the grand hall and know where the wood furniture entrees will be, where to find the painting you worked so hard on hanging on the wall amongst other Vineyard works. Sometimes disappointment reigns, but there’s always next year.
“We got first place and best in show,” Molly Glasgow from the Grey Barn in Chilmark said, smiling earlier this week about her cow and calf. “We are new to this, and we weren’t expecting anything like that. We groomed and went the extra mile.” Five-month old calf Mae could be seen strutting around the front of the barn, inviting people up to pet her every day at the fair.
Earl Peters took home first place in woodcraft furniture for creating a table in the shape of the Island, inlaid with hand-tied lures by friend Billy Norton; Mr. Peters named it Billy’s Table, in tribute to his friend. A few paces down, first place quilts hung above fairgoers’ heads, brightening the grand hall that was already glowing with colorful vegetables. Lisa Pyden won the Freeman F. Wallin Memorial Award for her black and white photograph of a mounted horseback rider that emphasized the duality of work from both rider and animal. Horses seemed to be a crowd pleaser this year as Lily Moos won the Edward Brodney Award for her first-place watercolor depiction of three family horses.
Across the aisle from the adult art were adult vegetables — Morning Glory Farm, Susie Middleton, Chris Fischer and Bayes Norton Farm ruled the first place prizes this year for tomatoes, beans, potatoes, garlic, onions and the like. Karen Overtoom won for her extra large zucchini, and Paul Jackson took best in show for his arrangement of home-grown fruits, vegetables and preserves displayed in memory of his wife, Mary Etta Jackson, who died this spring. Mr. Jackson might have competition in coming years from Devin and Brad Neal, who placed first with their vegetable display in a red wheelbarrow, and from Leah Pachico, whose award-winning sunflower head was at least a foot in diameter.
Outside the hall a crowd was gathering for Robinson’s Racing pigs to swim and run as fast as they could through the obstacle course. “Hurry!” shouted one parent to her children, hoping to grab a good spot to view the race. “This was his first trip to the Vineyard,” Ms. Neubert said of the new Robinson’s emcee this year. “He recently did the New Jersey State Fair. He said that there were more people here than at the New Jersey fair which is a lot larger.”
In between waiting for the next pig race to start, families supported the women of the fair at the annual women’s skillet throw Sunday afternoon. Women of all ages were stretching their arms, practicing the motion of tossing and comparing techniques before the main event began.
“Can you give me a little massage?” asked one mother to her little boy, pointing to her shoulder.
“I’ve been carrying a purse around for 40 years, I should be able to do this,” said another.
The record throw to beat was 58 feet 6 inches. Harriet Kantrowitz from Brookline threw 30 feet 7 inches, but it still won her the 65 and older class.
“I practice a little,” Mrs. Kantrowitz said after her win. “It feels wonderful to win. I didn’t believe it last year when I won and I don’t believe it now.”
Standing in the damp grass in white ballet flats, shorts and a raincoat, Mrs. Kantrowitz shared her win with her husband who was taking pictures of her holding the blue ribbon and trophy she received. “Chilmark is our home,” she said. “The fun part is to participate.”