During this week’s rambles through Hamlin, Roanoke, and Twin Ponds Parks, I found myself pondering creativity. Where do new ideas and interests come from? I reflected on my family’s visits to the Alaska and Washington State Fairs last September. My husband, my daughter, and I all got a very different creativity boost. To cultivate your own creativity, consider visiting an awesome state fair.

If you're looking for awesome creative inspiration, consider visiting the arts and crafts or hobby hall at state fairs.
If you’re looking for awesome creative inspiration, consider visiting the arts and crafts or hobby hall at state fairs.

Alaska State Fair

When we found out that the Alaska State Fair in Palmer was in full swing during our visit to Anchorage and its environs, we decided we could visit both it and the Washington State Fair when we returned to Seattle. What a great way to compare and contrast our visits two weeks apart.

Despite Alaska being the largest state in the country, the state’s largest fair sits on 40 acres in Palmer, AK, and draws 100,000 visitors every summer. Washington State Fairgrounds, by contrast, covers 160 acres and attracts over a million guests. Attendance at the Texas State Fair (the biggest fair in the US) boasts over 2.5 million people. While such stats are interesting, I prefer to consider the exhibits and entertainment at each.

A 4-H contestant shows his steer. We were particularly interested in the tennis ball toppers on the steer's horns.
A 4-H contestant shows his steer. We were particularly interested in the tennis ball toppers on the steer’s horns.

Excellent Exhibits

Alaska State Fair boasts some of the most enormous vegetables I’ve ever seen. Alaskans must put long days of summer sunlight to good use. The award-winning pumpkin in 2022 weighed a whopping 2,147 pounds. And I couldn’t even begin to guess what the gigantic Puffball weighed. It looked a bit like marshmallow fluff that had been sitting out for too long.

This award-winning pumpkin weighed a whopping 2,147 pounds.
This award-winning pumpkin weighed a whopping 2,147 pounds.
Giant puffball, weight unknown.
A giant puffball of unknown weight.

We also enjoyed looking for seven “monster displays” made from flowers and shrubs. The fairgrounds perch between some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Sure, you can see Mt. Rainier (14,411 feet) from Puyallup, WA on a good day. But compared to the Alaska mountain ranges, our Cascades seem to resemble the “mountainettes” of Asheville, NC where my folks live.

One of seven greenery "Monsters" families could look for.
One of seven greenery “Monsters” families could look for.
Stunning Alaska mountains in September. I must return.
Stunning Alaska mountains in September. I simply must return.

A Day of Entertainment

In addition to great exhibits, we enjoyed no end of entertainment. The last time I’d watched a live Lumberjack show was over a decade ago in Vancouver, BC. While the jokes felt a bit tiresome, the competitors demonstrated remarkable athleticism. We watched Kenai Peninsula pigs race. Our daughter visited the Mineshaft Mobile Gem Mining Adventure cart and added more gems to her collection. I drooled over the spectacular mountain scenery. And we learned more about metal print nature photography. Special thanks to Dan Twitchell of Wild Alaska Art for answering our questions.

Wild Alaska Art had a booth displaying metal prints. Twitchell's images POPPED in a way we hadn't seen before. We immediately saw the promise for some of our own photography.
Wild Alaska Art had a booth displaying metal prints. Twitchell’s images POPPED in a way we hadn’t seen before. We immediately saw the promise for some of our own photography.

Washington State Fair

Two weeks later, we visited the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Our first stop is always Hobby Hall to view the crafts, photography, quilting, food, and Lego displays. Then we meander among the animal barns, hoping to see the large mother pigs with their piglets.

Mama pig dozes while half her litter of piglets suckles.
Mama pig dozes while half of her litter of piglets suckle.

Legos

Our daughter has entered Lego creations at the Washington State Fair for the past five years or so. In 2021 she received “Reserve Grand Champion” for her Parisian Cupcake Cafe. This year, she entered an organic build of a Brooks Falls grizzly bear fishing in a waterfall. She came up with the idea by watching live bear cameras of Brooks Falls grizzlies catching salmon.

I have no words to describe her beaming face when she saw the “Grand Champion” ribbon next to her entry. She’d finally reached her goal to become the fair’s best builder, at the tender age of 18. Might judging be her next role?

Our daughter's Brooks Falls grizzly bear entry won Grand Champion in the 2022 Lego contest.
Our daughter’s Brooks Falls grizzly bear entry won Grand Champion in the 2022 Lego contest.

Quilling

After finding out that her Lego entry did so well, we wandered over to the paper-folding display to see about her Origami submission. She ended up competing against some beautiful quilled artwork. Quilling is the art of paper rolling and can take infinitely more dexterity, patience, and time than paper folding does.

Our new hobby interest from the Washington State Fair: Quilling!
Our new hobby interest from the Washington State Fair: Quilling!

An exhibitor had set up a display with instructions on how to start quilling. With great interest, we studied the shapes, looked at each other, and exclaimed, “That looks like fun!” The next day, I ordered a beginning quilling set. Within a week, my daughter had mastered enough rolling techniques to make a beautiful holiday card for my parents.

My daughter's early attempts at quilling. Add it to her strong abilities in painting and building, and she's got an unbeatable set of talents!
My daughter’s early attempts at quilling. Add it to her strong abilities in painting and building, and she’s got an unbeatable set of talents!

Novelty

A trip to a state fair invites you to explore or try something new and embrace being a beginner. Whether you are drawn to animals, carving, quilting, canning, photography, needlepoint, or making clothes, you can literally get inspired to try just about anything. Every time I go, I see, do, or learn something new. This year’s unique experiences included seeing pig races in Alaska and personally knowing a Grand Champion from Washington. Pretty special!

TRY THIS: The next time you go to a large public place, give yourself permission to do one thing you never thought you would. Perhaps something you’ve always wanted to but maybe you thought it was just for kids, or you were intimidated for some reason. Maybe you’ll choose to stay for a pig race when you usually just go for the music. Or see what animals are featured in the 4-H tent. Put on that beginner’s mentality and engage your inner child. Give it a try! You might find you like hunting for gemstones or seeking monster gardening displays!

Piglets waiting to race.
Piglets waiting to race.

Something for Everyone

I imagine there are plenty of people who go to a state fair for the scones, barbecued ribs, cotton candy, or caramel corn. We make one concession and sometimes get our daughter an ice cream on the way home — like we did this year to celebrate her accomplishment. Others may enjoy the midway rides, games, shopping, or live music. Our favorite fair-going activities include seeing the animals, viewing the arts and crafts, and wandering. My mother would be especially fond of people-watching. State fairs can spark whatever you are interested in.

For my daughter, Legos and paper rolling are natural interests. We also knitted a few rows at a “scarf station.” My husband was intrigued by some of the woodworkers. He found a new way to give thank-you and holiday gifts in metal prints. As for me? Yes, I do my photography and I’m experimenting with quilling. But my big creative boost is turning our adventures into stories, celebrating through words and photographs to motivate and inspire others. Triple-win!

You can count on me to come away with a few favorite photos of inspirational words, like this "Lessons from a Christmas Tree" China plate.
You can count on me to come away with a few favorite photos of inspirational words, like this “Lessons from a Christmas Tree” China plate.

Do you have a favorite state fair memory or moment you want to share? Write it in the comments below. I love hearing from readers.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Great story. I havenโ€™t been to a fair in the last 20 years. I need to try it. I love your ideas of trying something new..it is never too late to start crafting. Congratulations to Brooke for the big prize. Amazing!
    ๐Ÿ˜

    1. Thanks, Silvie Marie! Now that I think about it a bit more, the lumberjack show I think we saw was at Canada’s version of a “state fair” but I wonder would that be a “provincial fair” or “regional fair”? ๐Ÿ™‚ I will tell her she has a fan rooting for her!