ASHLAND COUNTY FAIR
During my last year of HS, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh sent some people to our HS to recruit. I visited their campus in the summer at an overnight orientation, met some cool kids (and perdy girls…) and had a blast. Since I really wasn’t prepared for doing the SAT’s or ACT’s and was accepted, I took the bait and went to AIP after the summer of 1991. Which I spent working at Camp Mowana in Mansfield (One of my favorite jobs to this day but I’m skipping over it since it had nearly nothing to do with caricatures.)
The AIP semester started late in the fall so I was around when Ashland High School started up again. It felt weird to be out wandering around aimlessly some days when I had always been in school at this time of year and many of my friends still had to go to class. I had money from graduation and my summer job but I currently had no job, no classes, no worries- and my whole life ahead of me! Life was good and it seemed like I must have been experiencing the meaning of the word FREEDOM!
About a month after Mowana closed and schools were back in session, the Ashland County Fair happened. It was only about 60 degrees at the coldest but little did I know you could actually get hypothermia at that temperature because sitting in one place makes you very, very cold! I found myself shivering every night of it and on the last night I damn near shook my chair apart while I sat there in the buzzing mercury lights under a blanket!
I had bought a lightweight French easel from Jerry’s Artorama that pretty much fell apart right away. The fair board put me on a corner with lots of traffic and I did pretty well considering I was selling my drawings for only $2. I made my first signs with cardboard and the sharpie markers I drew with back then. I learned the hard way how to write “CARICATURES” so that it all fit on a sign correctly. This is harder than it seems and I must have ruined 4 sheets of posterboard trying to get it right that first day. I duct taped the sign to my rickety easel. Then I re-taped it. Then I taped the easel together by using the sign. Then I taped it again when it fell apart again. Then I had to make a new sign because the other one blew off and ripped… Next thing you know the whole contraption looked like a total catastrophe! What a piece of crap!
My mother had talked me into drawing at the fair and I was pretty nervous. She had even given me the money to pay the vendor fee at the fair. It sure beat my first job working at Hawkins Market as a bagger that’s for sure!
Charlie Daniels played the Ashland County Fair that year. Anything by Garth Brooks, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” and Alabama’s “Mountain Music” were really big too. I was not a fan of country music back then but I had to listen to it day in and day out and actually started to like it a little. (Shhhh, don’t tell anybody!!!) There was a pavilion across the walkway from me where they had country bands, banjo music and barbershop quartets. When it rained, it would be packed full of people (and myself- I didn’t have a tent!) It was loud and the music sucked, but I saw how folks doing a similar thing to what I was doing made their living entertaining people at fairs and afterwards a few of them would come over and get a caricature from me and talk a little shop and tell me about how they do things at other fairs and festivals and some of the cool things they’ve seen.
The weirdest thing to me was being at the fair early and having lots of cash to buy anything I wanted! I hadn’t gotten there that early or been there all day and actually gotten to see the agricultural stuff since I was a kid and went there with the pre school group. I still had a twinge of guilt for not being in school, so it was quite an awakening to see how the ‘Carnys’ lived, and to realize I WAS ONE OF THEM, HA HA!!
I got into the fair for free and could go anywhere I wanted. I had donuts for breakfast, I had coffee every morning, and as many hot dogs or whatever I wanted for lunch and French fries for dinner! I saw sheep being sheered, cows being exercised, pigs running around in their racing stables, no lines for games or rides and I saw the “dumb kids” from school working at them. I made friends with them and some of the other vendors and we bartered for goodies. I saw old people speed-walking around the grounds, I saw fat people on Rascal Scooters going into the pole barns early to collect bucketfuls of free stuff, I saw old people who have a special day where they can go and walk really slow and know everybody and sit and talk all day without all the noisy, annoying kids there to bug them, I saw days where little kids came and took over the place like a rowdy gang of kittens, I saw days when all the 4H kids took over and it was very business like and serious (and surprisingly interesting) I saw days when the displays changed in the craft barns, all the old ladies would come put their best baked goods out, their best knitting up and their finest garden treasures out for everyone in the county to see. I saw some quite fascinating displays from the Ag kids at the HS. One of them was a dissected cow eyeball. (I saw a kid get in the way of a wayward fishhook and it got stuck in his eyeball when I was a kid. Gahhhhbrrrrrelcht!!! ….AH!!!!! Never have gotten rid of that image in my head, even after all these years…) When the days were over I saw dirty, creepy carny ride people drinking beer and making out with sluts from my HS behind the animal barns. I saw hard working, rough looking gypsy people go to their trailers for the night and I saw things the health department would probably frown upon -in just about every direction.
I have seen the Ashland County Fairgrounds almost completely empty. It was sad but it felt kinda cool at the same time. It was like peeking behind the curtain and seeing that the wizard is just some little dork like me. I was officially a carny and it was kinda awesome.