Crows were the only inhabitants of the fair grounds at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury yesterday, a thick morning fog hovering over the freshly cut field. But come next week the Ferris wheel will be up, the smell of barbecue and fried dough will float in the air, and wide eyes young and old will peer into the hall to see if a ribbon rests next to their entry.
For the past 150 years memories have been created for anyone who has walked through the gates of the annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair. To celebrate the milestone birthday, the fair theme this year is Timeless Traditions, and for Jivonne Alley, winner of the design for this year’s fair poster, the summer bookmark is just that.
“It represents pure fun to people, a chance to get away,” Ms. Alley said in a telephone interview with the Gazette over the weekend. “It’s something that you’ve always been able to count on . . . it’s something consistent through generations and I think it provides a real sense of comfort and consistency in peoples’ lives as something to return to as a tradition in their own lives,” she said.
“It’s just good fun, whether it’s the animals, the woodsmen’s contest, the food and entertainment — whatever age you are, it provides that for all,” she added. “It’s not only timeless in traditions, it’s timeless to generations. No matter what age you are, the fair has something for everyone.”
Ms. Alley wanted to take this year’s theme and do a modern interpretation of the iconic vintage country fair posters, something graphic and simple, while bringing together the timeless elements of the Vineyard fair.
In her heart the cow is the truest of fair animals, represented by a kind black and white holstein, accompanied by the one lonely tree outside the hall and the Ferris wheel spinning a few feet away.
Ms. Alley’s design is a combination of computer graphics, hand sketching, embellishing and hand coloring. She began working on it over the winter and it took her about two months to complete. Not only was this her first poster design entry, but it was her first fair entry ever.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Ms. Alley worked summers on the Vineyard from age 15 through college. She is now an architectural designer with her husband in Newburyport.
“The fair has always had a place in my heart, and I think very fondly of it,” she said. “I had looked at past posters, some I love very much. But what I was surprised at was how far you had to go back to get that country fair-style poster and how illustrative they’ve been for so many years.”
Ms. Alley said she also looked at traditional Midwestern country fair posters and tried to translate a modern New England interpretation.
“The fair certainly has something different than any other fair,” she said. “I didn’t want to just embellish and do something off of another country fair.”
Her favorite poster from the past few years is the 2003 poster of the sheep, designed by Dick Iacovelli.
“I love the simplicity of it, the faces are just so beautiful, and that to me is the fair,” she said. “Getting up close and personal with the animals is the part of the fair I most enjoy and for me it’s cows that do that. I like to get up close and personal with the cows.”
This year she plans to be at the fair from start to finish.
“I realize for so many years since my first summer I’ve missed the beginning of the fair,” she said. “It’s going to be really a lot of fun to be able to engross myself in the whole fair experience.”
Volunteer spots are still available for trash collecting, judging and helping to set up the hall; sign up from 9 a.m. to noon at the agricultural hall on week-days.
In keeping with the theme, organizers have brought back a few 19th century awards that had faded with time. In the late 1880s classes such as best vegetable farm or garden, fruit farm or garden, and cultivated forage crops (rye, oats, alfalfa and wheat) were an important part of the fair — this year special classes have been designated for them.
Awards will be presented for the “best and most economical collection of manures and compost,” as well as for quince, cheese, lace work, wax work, work boxes and articles made of reed or willow. Best performance in ploughing (not plowing as the name was changed by 1900) by horses or oxen with or without a driver will take place on the fair grounds.
Entry dates for these special classes have already passed; Monday is the deadline for entry forms for all other categories. Drop-off days are Wednesday and Thursday.
Here are a few tips from fair organizers for those prepping produce, crafts and art for judging.
For vegetables and fruits, judges look for uniformity in size, shape, color and quality. A fine texture for stems on the vegetable is also examined. Vegetables should be free from cuts, blemishes, bruises, insect injury and disease.
For canned goods processed in an open kettle or hot water bath, best quality and uniformity in size is looked at, as is color. Liquid should be clear and free of sediment. Container should be uniform, clean and properly sealed and labeled.
Jellies and jams should be of good color and consistency, properly sealed, containers uniform.
Baked goods must be properly covered and accompanied by a recipe. If a package mix is used or modified, this must be indicated in the recipe.
Entry forms are available at the agricultural hall.
Fair festivities start next Tuesday at 5 p.m. with a special fair parade, with entries from the Whiting Farm, Native Earth Teaching Farm, Hoft Farm’s Fair Orchards, the Farm Institute and music by the Vineyard Haven Band. The parade starts at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, travels down Music street and Panhandle Road to the Agricultural Hall. Lemonade and cookies will be served in the hall.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To reach Remy Tumin, please call 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.