Longtime fair participant Marty Davis doesn’t just have one collection she enters every year; she boasts a collection of collections. Among her menagerie of animal figurines and statues, she has entered her collections of turtles, horses and elephants, to name a few. This year, Davis will show her collection of five Toscano-brand squirrels, made out of resin and hand-painted.
Though it’s one collection of many, the group of squirrels is a favorite for Davis. It features two pairs and a stand-alone squirrel, each dressed in clothes and accessories to give them personality.
“I just think they’re cute, the way they’re all dressed up,” Davis said.
Davis, 71, is one of more than 2,500 people entering hobbies, art, baked goods and more in the Kern County Fair’s still exhibits this year. With 19 adult categories and 23 junior categories — a total of 548 divisions between them — and multiple entries from most participants, there will be somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 entries this year, said still exhibit supervisor Patt Sandrini.
“It’s a place for them to show what they’re doing,” Sandrini said. “Where else can you show off what you’re interested in, what you’re doing? People are proud. That’s kind of what the fair is all about.”
This year’s participation is on par with recent years, up from a low five years ago, Sandrini said. Popular categories for exhibitors and fair-goers alike are gems and minerals and hobbies, which includes collections, crafts and models. But the category with the most entries is photography, with 1,170.
“It’s a nice problem to have,” Sandrini said when asked if that many entries ever pose challenges. “We make it work.”
As new interests arise, divisions are added to still exhibit categories. New last year was the homebrew contest, which Sandrini hopes will continue to grow. This year there is also a new “drone shots” class in the photography category, though no one has entered anything yet, she said. While new divisions have been added, Sandrini couldn’t think of any that have been cut in the more than 10 years she’s been supervising the still exhibits.
“If you cut one that has maybe one or two people entering, they need a place they can go to” to enter, Sandrini said. “We do more adding than cutting. You never know what people are interested in.”
About a quarter of those entering still exhibits are first-timers; the majority, like Davis, are returning exhibitors, Sandrini said. For 37 years, Davis has entered exhibits for different categories and volunteered at the fair.
“I have ribbons for every year I’ve done the fair,” she said.
Davis first got “roped into” the fair in 1978. She and her mother would paint pieces at Elizabeth’s Ceramics in east Bakersfield. The owner often enlisted them to paint pieces that weren’t selling well; customers would then buy more of them after seeing the pair’s handiwork. One of the pieces they were asked to paint was an American Indian chief, which the owner then insisted they enter in the fair.
“What could you say but ’OK’?” Davis said.
Throughout the years, Davis and her parents would enter items in different categories. Davis, who has since lost both her mother and father, has entered ceramics, collections, crafts, photographs and written pieces for the fair’s Author’s Corner exhibit. A photo of her friend’s dog, Dart, wearing a hat and sunglasses once won the Chairman’s Choice award. In addition to her squirrel collection, Davis also entered three photographs to this year’s fair: two sunsets and a picture of a little girl with a backpack on in Wal-Mart called “Lost in Thought.”
Of all her past entries, it’s hard for Davis to pick a favorite. One of the cutest entries, she said, was last year’s collection of Mary’s Moo Moos, cow figurines in different outfits and poses. A past collection she exhibited honoring her late toy poodle, Pepia, included a variety of poodle items. The collections add up to a lot of figurines, so Davis doesn’t display them all at home. Many are packed up in boxes until they’re called on to be in the fair.
“When it comes time, I just look around and see what I haven’t put in yet,” Davis said of how she chooses what collection to show.
The five squirrels fairgoers will see in Davis’ collection case this year are just part of a greater collection of squirrel items she has at home. Her love of squirrels started with a mysterious species of squirrel abundant in her mother’s hometown near Marionville, Mo. Those squirrels are well known in the area for their white fur and pink eyes, though Davis said they are not albino.
Davis and Sandrini explained that collection exhibits are not judged against one another but against themselves, in what’s called Danish judging. If the collector’s case is well organized and the walls are decorated, he or she will likely get a first-place ribbon, Davis said. Failing to decorate the rest of the case usually bumps a collector to second.
“It takes something pretty bad to not get second,” Davis said. “With third place, you’ve got to have a pretty bad display.”
For anyone considering entering a collection into the fair, Davis has a few words of advice. First, make sure to complete all paperwork on time. Second, focus not on the number of items in a collection but on its presentation. Entries need at least five items to constitute a collection.”
It takes Davis about 30 minutes to arrange her collection display cases, which will this year include her squirrels and a few turtles, since she’ll have some extra space.
Fairgoers will see Davis’ entries in the hobby and photography departments this year, but they might also see Davis herself. She volunteers for the hobby department, where she’ll be throughout the fair to keep an eye on exhibits. It’s not uncommon for regular exhibitors to volunteer, Sandrini said.
“Marty is just one of those people who will do anything; she’s happy to be out here,” Sandrini said. “She’s just part of the fair. There are a lot of people like that.”
And while Davis admits with a sly grin that it’s the ribbons that keep her entering her exhibits every year, she said it’s the people she works with who make her want to come back as a volunteer.
“There are people you see every year at the fair that you never see otherwise,” she said.