State Fair Posters, then and now


The 2010 Minnesota State Fair commemorative poster by Deborah Voyda Rogers

Today the Minnesota State Fair unveiled this year’s poster art, by White Bear Lake resident Deborah Voyda Rogers. It’s an annual event, and for the last several years the fair organizers have made the poster an opportunity to showcase the work of a Minnesota artist. The image will adorn not just posters, but billboards, buses, t-shirts and postcards.

Frankly I’m a bit inspired by this year’s selection; it’s an homage to the fairgrounds’ architecture. But it fails to depict any one of the three most important components of the annual get-together: people, food and animals. Curious, I decided to take a look at some of the recent winners.


The 2005 Minnesota State Fair Commemorative Poster, by Mary GrandPre

Of course the most famous artwork to grace the State Fair poster in recent years is that of Mary GrandPre, the illustrator of the Harry Potter books. No witches or wizards here, but it does hit the holy trinity – kids, farm animals and food (corn, pies and an ice cream cone). There’s even a ferris wheel in the distance. And isn’t that a quilt along the bottom?


The 2008 Minnesota State Fair Commemorative Poster, by Edie Abnet

However a look at the 2008 artwork reveals a more minimalist trend. Edie Abnet’s watercolor focuses on horses, and horses alone. The accompanying ribbons, banners and stars imply more of a circus or carnival feel than that of a 4-H competition. For horse lovers it’s a big win, but what about those thousands of people who come to the fair for a good corn dog and a ride in the chair lift?

Even more puzzled now, and as curious as ever, I decided to look up some of the older State Fair posters. A virtual visit to the Minnesota Historical Society provided me with a bunch of great material, including a series of fair posters from 1922, by Latham Litho and Printing Co. in New York.


Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society


Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The images are bright and cheerful, thanks to the primary colors, and both of them feature people and food. And you know what else? They also feature architecture. And they still hold true after almost 90 years. Not bad.

I like the idea of the fair showcasing the work of Minnesota artists each year, and not just in the Fine Arts building. But by playing to a particular artist’s creative strengths the State Fair is losing an opportunity to celebrate what it truly is – the Great Minnesota Get-Together.