Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Vinland Fair contest is on the button

April 19, 2007

Mary Gensler grew up in Vinland, and she can't remember a year that she didn't attend the small town's summer fair.

She recalls tasting homemade pies and ice cream. Listening to live music wafting through the valley and the roar of antique engines heaving sleds during the tractor pull. Watching children run and play with wild abandon.

"You can always come and bring your kids and turn them loose at the fair, and you don't have to worry about them," says Gensler, 71.

It's that old-fashioned charm that continues to draw folks to the fair a century after it started. And for the past 20 years, buttons have documented a different slice of that charm each year.

Previously, members of the fair board chose an aspect of the event they wanted to highlight, and an artist drew it. Among the items to appear on previous buttons have been a cow, a tomato, a sunflower, a tractor, a slice of pie, the historic Vinland Fair Exhibition Building and a little boy walking a goose

This year, to help mark the fair's centennial, a contest will determine the button design.

"It will be interesting to see what other people see when they visualize the fair," says Gensler, longtime treasurer of the fair board.

The winner will receive a $100 cash prize, and his or her design will appear on buttons, T-shirts, aprons, hats and the cover of the 2007 fair book.

"It's good to get new people involved," says Vinland artist Jan Nitcher.

She has created 16 or 17 of the buttons over 20 years. She usually does an original drawing, then scans it into a computer to add color. The artwork never veers toward the complicated; simple, graphic images read better on a small canvas. But that's part of the difficulty, Nitcher says.

"It's also blown up large on a T-shirt, like 10 or 12 inches across," she says. "That's one of the challenges is that it has to work small and large."

A few of Nitcher's button designs hold more personal meaning than the others. The year her eldest son, Walt, took part in the sheep project, the button featured one of the woolly creatures. In 1997, she based the drawing on her younger son, Will, walking his goose in the pet parade.

"My kids just love the fair," says Nitcher, a graphic designer for University Relations at Kansas University. "It's just kind of a neighborhood reunion. You see people there you haven't seen all year -- old and young, all ages."

The fair board prints about 500 buttons each year. They cost $1 and are strictly commemorative; admission to the fair is free.

"You don't have to have one, but it's a going thing for everybody to have one each year," Gensler says.

She keeps a stock of buttons from previous years at her home, and nearly complete sets are available for sale. Nearly.

A group of architecture professionals came through the area for a conference several years ago and bought out the entire stash of 1990 buttons that featured the Exhibition Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The fair board will accept submissions through May 1 and select the winning design at its May meeting. The fair will take place Aug. 9-12.

Gensler, for one, hopes the creative ideas just come pouring in. Then she'll have a new button to stimulate her trips down memory lane.

"The can bring back memories," she says.

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