SKOWHEGAN — The 196th edition of the Skowhegan State Fair opens Thursday with not only rides, entertainment, horse racing and food, but also lots of displays of handiwork by people from all over the state.

In the arts and crafts barn, for instance, 900 paintings, photographs, quilts, pillows, sweaters, mittens, socks, scarves, hats, dolls and other items are being hung or placed carefully in glass display cases for fairgoers’ enjoyment.

They represent the work of exhibitors of all ages and are being inspected, categorized, tagged and put on display early this week before being judged Wednesday, a day before the fair opens.

“Everything is ready to go on Thursday when the fair opens,” says Kathy Dorko, arts and crafts exhibition hall manager.

Dorko and her crew of 10 were busy in the hall Monday afternoon, as exhibitors strolled in with their entries and placed them on tables to be tagged and sorted. There were colorful braided rugs, afghans, paintings, photographs, baskets, quilts and crocheted items.

“Tomorrow, we stop taking entries after 2 p.m.,” said Dorko, who has worked as hall manager for 31 years.

Exhibitors must be Maine residents and their work has to be handmade, with the exception of quilts, many of which are machine-sewn. Exhibitors may bring in multiple items.

“Everything is supposed to have been made or finished within the last year,” Dorko said.

A woman from Pittston brought in 37 items Monday, including quilts, wall hangings, knitted items and place mats, according to Dorko.

“We have several people who bring in 15 or more items,” she said. “If you bring in 15 entries, you can get a free pass to the fair.”

As the crew worked Monday afternoon, a warm breeze wafted through the open doors of the hall, which once a horse barn, according to Dorko. The hall, situated near the horse race track, children’s barnyard, poultry show, flower show, cow barns, 4-H building and fire department and Lions Club booths, hasn’t changed much over the years, except maybe to get a fresh coats of paint now and then, Dorko said.

Some exhibitors come back every year and can make a pretty penny in prize money, if they are so lucky as to win.

“We give out first, second, third and honorable mention,” Dorko said. “There is a money award for most all first, second and third places.”

The woman who brought in 37 items could walk away with a $150 check, she said.

First place for a sofa pillow can garner $14; first place for a quilt or oil painting, $20.

In the 31 years Dorko has managed the hall, there have been changes. The first year, 1,200 entries were received and while that number has decreased, it has not gone down dramatically, according to Dorko.

Craft entries change sometimes. For instance, latch hook projects might be popular for a while and then the exhibit hall might not get many such entries, she said.

“There’s been a huge up-tick in photography because people do digital photography,” she said. “Handcrafts are expensive. People don’t do so many. I think materials are costly.”

There is no cost to exhibit items, and the fair pays exhibitors who win prizes. Fairgoers will see prize ribbons hanging on winning entries when they visit the fair Thursday. The exhibit hall is open noon to 10 p.m. daily and an attendant is always on hand.

Dorko, who teaches English as a second language to children in kindergarten through grade 12, started her summer work at the fair when she was an art teacher at Skowhegan Junior Hight School (now the middle school) and the principal, Royce Knowles, asked if she would like to take over management of the exhibit hall when the former manager left. She said, ‘yes,’ and she has been there ever since. Some of her crew members are teachers who also have summers off.

“It’s kind of fun; we’ve got a great crew,” Dorko said.

Izaak Lachapelle, 21, and his brother, Devin, 18, were tagging items Monday and placing them on shelves for display. Izaak, a University of Maine senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he got the part-time fair job four years ago through a friend and has been doing it each summer since.

“I like it here,” he said, adding that it is Devin’s first year. Devin, who graduated from Skowhegan Area High School this year, will also attend University of Maine, where he will major in biological engineering.

Linda Williams of Madison brought in 20 items to exhibit, including sweaters, stoles and shawls, hats, gloves, pot holders, and Christmas items.

She said it was her first time exhibiting, although she has been sewing, knitting and crocheting for a long time.

“My first project was mittens,” she said.

Her grandson, Kyle Salley, 13, of Smithfield, actually talked her into exhibiting her works this year, she said. He and her granddaughter, Kristen Salley, 16, show cows at the fair. They buy their own cattle, and Kyle buys and raises his own chickens, according to Williams.

“She wants to be a veterinarian; he wants to be a farmer,” Williams said.

Elsewhere on the fairgrounds Monday, organizers were taking entries in the Lyndall T. Smith Agricultural Building, mechanics were setting up midway rides and vendors were assembling their booths for selling food including French fries, Italian sausage, corn dogs, chicken, sweet fruit smoothies, and, of course, cotton candy.

Fair admission is free for children under five; parking is $4 per car, per day. Ride bracelets cost $15 per person, per day. Gate admission is $8 for Thursday, opening day, as well as Aug. 11, 12, 13 and 14; gate admission is $10 on Aug. 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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