by Luke Taylor
September 01, 2017
Ron Kelsey is certainly familiar with the Horticulture Building at the Minnesota State Fair. "The first year I came here, this Horticulture Building was brand-new," Kelsey says. "It was built in 1947."
On that first visit, Kelsey was seven years old and accompanying his parents, farmers from southwestern Minnesota who showed corn at the State Fair. That makes 2017 a landmark year for Kelsey. "This is my 70th consecutive year at the Fair," he says.
For the past 17 years, Kelsey has been Superintendent of Crop Art at the State Fair Horticulture Building. As superintendent, it's Kelsey's responsibility to see that all rules are followed for the State Fair's Seed Art competition. Kelsey says that to qualify for judging, all of the crop art has to be made from seeds of crops that are grown in Minnesota. Seeds from weeds are not permitted in the competition.
Unlike the Fine Arts Building, which is strictly curated to winnow down entries to only the best submissions in any category, Kelsey says all seed art entrants' work — as long as it adheres to the rules about Minnesota seeds and about propriety for a general audience — is accepted into the show and displayed in the Horticulture Building. "We don't eliminate anybody unless there's been some rules that have been broken," Kelsey explains.
The artwork is often a reflection of subjects that are on Minnesotans' minds. In 2016, the year Prince died, the State Fair saw a number of seed art pieces that depicted Prince. That trend continues in 2017 (see photo gallery below). "There are pieces of Prince here, mainly portraits of Prince, and I believe that because of the following that Prince had, we're probably going to see those kind of things continue," Kelsey says. "Often if a star passes away, there are pieces that are made for [that person], or if it's an election year, we have those kinds of crop art always show up. People are interested in those kinds of things."
Kelsey is proud of the uniqueness of the Minnesota State Fair's seed art exhibit. "This is the only state in the United States that we know of that has competition in crop art, and this is our 52nd year," Kelsey says. "Other states are asking, 'What can we do? How can we get this started? Why is this so popular in Minnesota?' And I often say, 'Maybe it has something to do with our long winters."
Minnesota State Fair: Ag-Hort-Bee - official site