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State Fair scenes: Al and Audrey, political crop art and a 90th-birthday celebration

Al Franken
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Sen. Al Franken chats with Audrey Monday at the State Fair.

Among the sights and sounds encountered at the State Fair Monday:

Our junior senator
Sen. Al Franken kneeling in the street near the Haunted House Monday, talking with a little girl named Audrey. He told her that Audrey is a very nice name, and then launched into a riff on Audrey Meadows, the actress who starred as Alice Kramden in "The Honeymooners." She died in 1996, long before the little girl was born.

"She was a very funny woman" he said.

The girl — who got away before I could get her name — seemed to wonder why this man was talking to her. But her mom was proud that Audrey had met a U.S. senator.


Moving on and shaking more hands, Franken said that he was hearing a lot about health care, both in an earlier stop at the DFL Fair booth and while wandering the streets of the fairgrounds.

"People want health care reform," he said. "And many want a public option. Of course, I realize it might be a self-selecting group that would actually come up to me and talk about it."

That's probably right: Minnesotans on the other side of the issue might give him a piece of their minds during a health care forum, or when part of a protesting group but, at the State Fair, are more likely to shake hands politely and be pleased to meet a senator and former television personality.

Farrah crop art
MinnPost photo by Teresa Neuzil
"Forever Farrah"

A crop of political art
The quintessential kind of State Fair art has to be crop art — the painstakingly created masterpieces assembled from seed varieties. (They can actually use seeds and plant parts of field crops, horticultural crops and tree and shrub plant parts. But all have to be grown in Minnesota.)

They're displayed in a wing of the Horticultural Building.

There's a web page devoted to this niche of the creative world. At this year's fair, President Obama is faithfully depicted in a work by Linda Paulsen of Hackensack. Kelli Larson of Woodbury made the Great State Seal of Minnesota.

And Alan Carpenter of Minneapolis gets my vote for most bizarre scene: the artist himself flanked by Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush. "Self Portrait with First Ladies," he calls it. A halo and emanations seem to be coming from Alan's head. There's a parrot perched on Mrs. Reagan's shoulder and what might be a monkey behind Mrs. Bush. The symbolism escaped me, but I'd been walking around a long time and maybe couldn't appreciate Alan's allegories.

Alan Carpenter and First Ladies
MinnPost photo by Teresa Neuzil
Alan Carpenter's "Self Portrait with First Ladies"

The Minnesota Independent has a piece on another piece of political crop art: artist Mark Dahlager's re-creation of President Obama's birth certificate.

Of course, it can't all be about politics, all the time. James Buhler of Minneapolis has re-created all the swirls in the hair of Farrah Fawcett with his blue-ribbon-winning piece.

The (happy) return of Walt Spidahl
Walt Spidahl almost always spends his birthday — Aug. 31 — at the Fair: he's worked there since 1938, and has been selling foot-long hot-dogs there in the booth near the DNR building for decades.

This year, he turned 90, and friends greeted him with a cake and good wishes.

Walt Spidahl
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
With one exception, Walt Spidahl has been a State Fair fixture since 1938.

He spent just a little time in the booth, dishing up the foot-longs. He always asks if you want Norwegian fries with it — his term for fried onions.

Last year, I was one of many who stopped by to wish him well on his birthday, only to learn that Walt was battling health problems and stayed home in Fergus Falls. But I predicted he'd be back for his 90th, and, happily, he was.

Don Shelby of Channel 4 stopped by Monday to see Walt, too.

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Comments (3)

I'd also like to point readers' attention to the crop art Bachmann critiques. There are at least three different pieces displayed. Who knew crop art was such a critical medium? Bravo, crop artists!

Rachel Maddow mentioned the seed art on her show Monday night, and there's a link to it on her website.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#32635706

Joe, I took the parrot and monkey to be Fred Kahlo allusions. Her use of them as biographical iconography in her self portraits and their relation to those two first ladies eludes me, however.