The Metropolitan Museum of Agricultural Lifestyle

Quilting judges Ellen Shepherd, Jean Peterson, and Nancy Hutchinson discuss an entry in Floral Hall at the 2010 Tunbridge Fair. (Herald / Tim Calabro)

Like touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s impossible to absorb all the exhibits in Floral Hall in one visit.

The first time through, you may concentrate on looking for the entries from people that you know. Each time after that, you will notice different things, perhaps a cake you’ve never heard of, a quilt you wish you would make for yourself, or a category which inspires you to enter in next year.

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Assistant Superintendent Helen Barrett began working there over 25 years ago, when all the exhibits now housed in the Dodge- Gilman Building, plus some vending, were also crammed into Floral Hall. The Americans with Disabilities Act figured in remodeling the interior of the building

“The aisles were so narrow you couldn’t get a wheelchair in there,” she said.

As the layout of exhibits have changed, so too have the exhibits themselves. Fashions in craft works change. In the early ‘90s, Barrett says, they had quilt entries stacked four deep, but the quality has evolved while the entries have gotten fewer, reflecting that quilt-making is more about works of art these days than about utilitarian objects for the home.

Fashions Change

Knitted works are also more artistic these days, many made with home-spun and fine-quality yarns, and skeins of hand-spun yarns can be entered in a category of their own.

Most popular of all in Floral Hall is the photography, for entrants and visitors alike. People linger, leaning on the rail long enough to chat with several other viewers, looking for their favorite subjects or locating entries by someone they know. With over 200 entries, the categories within photography have been refined and broadened, but size and numbers of entries have some restrictions.

Sue Barnaby, superintendent of Floral Hall. (Herald / Nancy Cassidy)

Sue Barnaby has been superintendent for the past 17 years, taking over from the late Marie Sherlock.

“People aren’t doing as many items as they used to, but are putting more time in work well done,” Barnaby said.

The entry categories have changed, as well as the prizes. Years ago, Floral Hall included exhibits of collections, say, a 100 hats, and unusual things, like the largest ball of yarn.

Awarding Ribbons

Today, ribbons are awarded using the “Danish system,” in which the item is judged on its own merit, so there may be more than one first, second or third prize. Special recognition is awarded through sponsorship from individuals and businesses, such as the Libby Dodge award for the plant category, or the Best in Show for baking by King Arthur Flour.

Barnaby encourages those with expertise to enter their arts and crafts, saying these exhibits shouldn’t be thought of as restricted to amateurs.

“Entries are not just there as part of a contest, but are also part of the exhibits of the fair that people come to see,” she explained.

Amateur work, however, is abundant in the ever-growing number of exhibits in the Junior division. “They keep crowding us,” said Barrett, “but that’s fabulous; they’re our future.”

The Junior division, for ages under 18, includes vegetables, arts and crafts, and foods, but also a Lego section and school exhibits.


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