Art at the Fair Part 2: fine art exhibit

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“Follage on Fire” relief print by Gabs Hyman of Bellermine.

By Dave R. Davison

Last week, my expose on the art work encountered at the Washington State Fair started off with a look at the handpainted and airbrushed art that festoons some of the amusement rides. This week, I’ll do a quick survey of some of the other fine art that is well represented at the fair.

For this installment, I looked at the 30th annual Junior and Senior High School Art Show (ground floor of the air-conditioned Pavilion); the Fine Art Show 2017, with accompanying photography exhibit (2nd floor of the Pavilion); the “Artists in Action” shop (in the non-air-conditioned Merchant’s building under the grandstand) and the Oldfield Western Heritage Center.

At the Junior and Senior High School Art Show, there is some of what you would expect: lumpy and clunky work exhibiting inexpert handling of the media. (We all have to go through our growing pains.) Most of the work, however, is quite good and well worth viewing. Some of it, like acrylic, paint-by-the-numbers-style, digitally-derived self-portraits look like they were part of an art class assignment. The results are quite striking however.

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“Well suited” pen and ink by Nik Nuqui of Ragers High School.

Something good is going on in the printing studio at Bellarmine Prep because I encountered several eye-catching prints, like Addy Woolery’s “NataBAE,” all of which turned out to be made by students of that school. I also especially enjoyed Rogers High School’s Nik Nuqui’s pen and ink drawing of a decorative rhinoceros and Komachin Middle School’s Jordan Knutson’s lush, acrylic portrait “Girl with a Flower.” In the latter, color and shadow are beautifully blended to create a sumptuous mood.

A special section of the exhibit is set aside for art for students participating in the Korum Family Arts Scholarship awards competition. Scholarships are awarded to the top three finishers in the competition. This year’s winners were Rylee Thompson, Lettie Cole and Isaac Perez, all from Rogers High School.

Up on the second floor, meanwhile, the annual fine art show is always a visual feast, featuring a multitude of award winners in a variety of categories, a special show of miniatures and the presence of artists demonstrating their skills throughout the run of the fair. There were 689 works of art accepted for the main show this year. This annual extravaganza runs the gamut of media and subject matter. There are wildlife paintings, depictions of football and sports heroes, still life paintings, landscapes, portraits, county fair homages to rural life and enough cowboy-themed stuff to give the Tacoma Art Museum a run for its money.

In this show, there’s a charmer everywhere you look. Year after year, I find myself drawn to the thick and interesting oil paintings submitted by Trinda Love. The sumi painter Andrea Erickson also is a perennial favorite at the fair. This year I found myself gazing at Jani Freimann’s cool horses, made with bluish washes applied on orange background and allowed to drip and run down the surface. I also enjoyed the bright colors and the unique design of Hae Kyung Kim’s “Life,” in which elongated animals and trees and people are arranged to form vertical stripes and horizontal striations. I also found myself wishing that I could see an entire show of work by Nina Tabares of Graham, whose “Under the Sea” is a surreal and naive scene of subaquatic critters: jellyfish (with eyes), anemones, a dolphin and a couple of peculiar seals. The creatures frame an empty, aqua blue expanse in the middle of the canvas. The colors of the painting are lovingly blended, creating a strange and dreamlike effect that may have been unintentional.

Abutting the fine art show is the international photography exhibit that shows everything from journalist action shots to rustic landscapes to cute kiddie winkies and exotic locations. I have noticed that there are fewer and fewer nudes every year. The fair seems to be either increasingly skittish or prudish in that regard.

More art, geared for sale, is to be encountered under the grandstand at the Artists in Action shop. There are daily art demonstrations as well as a vast array of handmade arts and crafts objects to buy. For my money, the stars have always been the potters. The ceramics area is well represented with work by artists like Jill Rohrbaugh, Sharon Warwick, Dianne Kimball, Cheryl Larson-Popek, David Huff, Susan Thompson, Lucy Nilan, Ruthie Gibbs, Romana Vaisar and a whole slew of others. There are also large cases of artist-made jewelry, glass sculptures, mosaic work, triangular flag boxes, handmade yarn and some very nice handmade journals by Gary Waldron.

Finally, the Oldfield Western Heritage Center, a permanent fixture on the fairgrounds, is both a museum about the cowboy artist Fred Oldfield and a gallery of his work. It is also a showplace for artists working in the same Western/cowboy art tradition. There are artists on hand busily working away on pictures of men in 10-gallon hats and chaps riding astride pretty ponies (and similar such subjects).

This foray hardly scratches the surface of all the art and craft work to be enjoyed at the fair. The quilts and afghans and needle work constitute a whole realm of fabric arts that deserve mention. There is also a vast array of woodworking and carving to view. Visitors can view folk-styles of painting, leatherwork, egg-shell art and almost any creative endeavor you can think of.

There is more to do with your hands than manipulate the screen of your telephone. Go to the fair and you’ll find something to strike your fancy and fire up your imagination and induce you to get busy making something of your own.

Remember, the fair runs through Sept. 24. Get out there while you can. For further information visit

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