County fair exhibitors shine

Pros, amateurs alike show high level of talent

Most who attend the San Diego County Fair are very familiar with the concert lineup, thrill rides and indulgent fair food, but did you know you can see a 65-million-year-old crocodile head, or a full-sized canoe carved by a high school student?

The exhibit halls at the fair all full of truly amazing works of art and intriguing collections from San Diego and beyond. Here are a few finds that are bound to make fairgoers stop and say “Wow.” Catch them before they are gone - the fair closes Sunday, July 5.

Art galore

More than 3,500 photographs were submitted to the Photography, Photojournalism and Digital Arts exhibit this year, which only has space to display about 1,000 entries. The result is an extremely high-quality show featuring the work of professionals and amateurs.

“It’s a unique opportunity for artists to display their work, and have it viewed by 1.2 million people,” said Exhibitions Manager Katie Phillips. “And it’s a unique opportunity for fairgoers to see all this art in one place.”

The Best of Show photograph “Johnny” was taken by San Diegan Marvin Sloben. The black and white portrait is technically flawless, said judge Will Gibson. But it was the enrapturing character of the gentleman that drew the judges to this piece.

“The best photography and art allows you to look at it a long time and think of a lot of different things,” Gibson said. “This man is wearing his life on his face … there is a lot in there to mull over.”

Trench what?

Head to the Home & Hobby exhibit to learn about Trench Art, objects made from shell casings and other debris from war. San Diegan John Ford received Best in Show for his collection, which he began when he received his first piece of Trench Art in 1976.

Ford said he was intrigued by the creativity of the soldiers who created napkin holders, ashtrays, vases, model airplanes, salad forks, you name it, out of the scrap metals they found on the battlefield. He has since collected more than 100 pieces from around the world, mostly in the past four years with the help of eBay.

“I though it’s something that would be neat to display because nobody knows about it,” Ford said.

Beautiful bench

The Design in Wood exhibit, co-hosted by San Diego Fine Woodworking Association, is one of the largest and most prestigious woodworking shows in the United States. There you’ll find San Diego’s most famous park skyline carved into a bench.

Local furniture maker Del Cover spent a month creating the Balboa Park Bench.

“Traditional furniture uses architectural elements,” Cover said. “I took it a little further using architecture itself as defining part of the piece.”

Cover, who has displayed at the woodworking exhibit for more than 25 years, has built several benches and chairs featuring New York’s Central Park and Italian hill towns. The challenge is designing the piece so it’s balanced, Cover said, even if this means moving elements so they are no longer geographically correct.

The Balboa Park Bench, which was on display at the Mengei Museum in the park, earned several awards including Excellence in Design.

After Design in Wood, go next store to the Gems and Minerals exhibit to see such natural wonders as florescent rocks, a dinner table made entirely out of rocks (even the food) and a fossilized marine crocodile head that is 65 million year old.

Student surprises

The Student Showcase features classwork completed by students from seventh grade through community college. However, the quality of the work seems to far exceed what one might expect from teenagers.

One such case is the stunning handcrafted canoe Ashley Barnes began building in her senior year at Escondido High School for an agricultural mechanics class.

“I didn’t want a simple project,” Barnes said. “I wanted to do something I could be proud of.”

Cutting the wood, shaping, sanding - lots of sanding - and applying the fiberglass, resin and glossy finish took longer than one school year, but Barnes’ hard work paid off with a Best of Show ribbon at the fair.

The 19-year-old said she hopes to sell the fully functional canoe to achieve the highest degree in FFA, a student agricultural organization.