Sowing Discord at Minnesota’s Seed Art Competition



SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The longest line on the second greatest state honest in america wasn’t for the prize cows, curler coaster rides, or varied deep-fried meals served on a stick: It was for the seed artwork. 

The wait was price it. Previous scores of classic seed sacks and neatly stacked corn cobs vying for Better of Present ribbons, guests craned their necks to marvel on the bounty of intricate mosaics made fully out of seeds on the Minnesota State Honest, which ran from August 24 to September 4. Whereas the overwhelming majority of collaborating crop artists have been Minnesotans, the nation’s solely state honest seed artwork competitors has additionally graciously expanded its dozens of classes to incorporate out-of-state opponents, so long as they stick to 1 rule: Each seed must be grown in Minnesota. 

I used to be struck not simply by this craft’s painstaking nature but in addition by the variety of its subject material, which ranges from spectacular portraits and nonetheless lifes to well timed popular culture references and biting political commentary. This yr’s present included tributes to misplaced luminaries (Judy Heumann, Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman), sizzling pink Barbie memorabilia, OceanGate (“the little sub that couldn’t”), pleasure over Minnesota’s marijuana legalization, shows of help for trans youth and adults, clap backs to Ron DeSantis (“Minnesota, the place woke goes to bloom!”), and much and tons of yacht-smashing orcas. 

Lots of of seed artwork mosaics line the wall of the Agriculture Horticulture Constructing on the Minnesota State Honest.

This yr there have been over 400 submissions of crop artwork, which coated each seed artwork and the adjoining (additionally pleasant) scarecrow competitors.

“It has grown tremendously from the very starting,” mentioned Ron Kelsey, superintendent of farm crops on the honest, who was 24 when seed artwork first bloomed in 1965. That is Kelsey’s seventy fifth yr on the “Nice Minnesota Get-Collectively.”

Throughout these first years, most artists organized seeds into pure scenes, like flowers and landscapes, till hairstylist Lillian Colton modified the sport by introducing seed artwork portraiture. Her hyperrealistic mosaics of figures like Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, and Barbra Streisand raised the bar for crop artists on the honest. 

Lillian Colton, “Ernest Hemingway” (1970), timothy, poppy seed, grits, brome grass, birdsfoot trefoil

Right now, artist Liz Schreiber sits the place Colton as soon as did on the demonstration desk, meticulously putting tiny quinoa and flax seeds to create a bullfrog. Schreiber is the artist behind this yr’s commemorative fair poster, an extremely detailed and boldly designed amalgamation of iconography that Minnesota fairgoers maintain pricey. “It’s very meditative,” Schreiber informed MPR News. “It’s sort of like doing a puzzle.” 

Liz Schreiber demonstrates seed artwork on the Minnesota State Honest.

“A crop artwork image can take dozens and, in lots of instances, lots of of hours to finish,” mentioned Joel Alter, a former political researcher and seed artwork newcomer who received a second premium ribbon this yr. Many discover that point passes rapidly, as they benefit from the thrilling and addictive course of. “Some folks get began with it they usually can’t cease,” mentioned Kelsey.

Joel Alter, “Jobs In poor health-Suited to Seed Artists, #47″ (2023), onion pores and skin, soybeans, millet, amaranth, rye, wheat, wild rice, poppyseeds, lentils, quinoa, Division: Senior Residents Crop Artwork, Class 20 Senior Citizen, Winner of second premium ribbon

However why did this artwork type sprout in Minnesota? “I all the time say, perhaps this has one thing to do with Minnesota’s lengthy winters,” Kelsey defined.

Minnesotans have all the time had numerous time on their arms indoors throughout these freezing months. Crop association additionally stretches again to the early days of the honest within the 1850s, when farmers started displaying off their wares for shiny ribbons. Many created aesthetically pleasing preparations to impress judges and passersby. All of those elements blended with strong folk traditions make for the right situations to sow and reap a bounty of artwork.  

Seed artwork is outlined by its accessibility: All you want is Elmer’s glue, some seeds, and one thing to say. Each submission is displayed, making for a radically democratic artwork present, and inspiring many to make a political stance.

“1000’s of individuals wait in lengthy strains to see it on daily basis,” mentioned Alter. “A chunk of crop artwork supplies a platform for an artist — if they’re so inclined — to make a political assertion that may be seen by many individuals.” Some are state-specific, corresponding to politician and artist Julie Blaha’s homage to the Democrats’ success throughout the “Minnesota Miracle 2.0.” Others cope with weighty, nationwide crises: One standout comes from Laura Melnick, a authorized support lawyer. Melnick’s “Ideas and Prayers!” (2023) skewers the hypocrisy of the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation (NRA) within the model of a Maurice Sendak illustration, all by means of exemplary, exact craftsmanship. 

Laura Melnick, “Ideas and Prayers!” (2023), amaranth, birdsfoot trefoil, celosia, clover, columbine, dianthus, dill, grass, millet, poppy, Division: Pure Colours, Class 2 Superior, Winner of first premium ribbon

Whereas some sow seeds of discontent, others germinate hope. There have been many proud statements of trans pleasure and delight, each in glued seeds and down the aisle. Queer couple Molly Ritchie and Annie Bulbulian Wells had a “71-second marriage” ceremony within the hallway across the nook, proper subsequent to the scarecrows and proper below Ron Kelsey’s seed bag collection. Wells, who makes use of they/them pronouns, took up seed artwork not too long ago and commemorated the ceremony of their work within the present. “With so many horrible issues taking place to trans folks in recent times, I needed to remind people who trans folks love and are cherished and that we convey pleasure into the world,” the artist mentioned.

Seed artists have already packed up their alfalfa and mustard seeds this yr, however it’s by no means too early to start out planning your late-summer Minnesota vacation for 2024.


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