By Jean English
Much like growing a garden, perseverance pays off for artists who enter the Common Ground Country Fair poster contest. Genny Keller of Whitefield, Maine, started entering the contest in 1992, and her fifth try won! Her design depicts a cawing black crow perched upon a tomato stake, above succulent, tempting, red cherry tomatoes, as if announcing to the rest of the world that the crop is ready and life is good.
Keller has a BFA in Fine Arts and Drawing from California College of the Arts in Oakland. When she and her husband (a woodworker who does custom kitchens and who was her high-school sweetheart at the Putney School in Vermont) moved from Rochester, New York, to Maine, one of their top criteria in selecting a location was that it be near the Common Ground Country Fair site. So they moved to Whitefield, one town from Windsor – “where the Fair used to be!” jokes Keller.
For 15 years, Keller has worked from her home where she and her husband raise their two boys. She is the bookkeeper and business manager for a graphic design company in Rochester, New York – and she’s “a contest junkie.” She won the 2000 poster contest for the WERU Full Circle Fair with her frog design, and she “pushed aside” her business management job for brief periods during the five years she entered the Common Ground contest. “Having the poster contest has been wonderful for me,” she says. “I love to think about it, what image will work. I have a list of ‘MOFGA possibilities’ on my studio wall.”
One year she submitted a design of blueberries and a butterfly and was told that it was “too feminine.” Since then she has tried for a design that would appeal to both men and women who buy T-shirts and other Fair goods.
In strategizing, Keller and others noted that posters tended to alternate between plants one year and animals the next, and to plan their designs accordingly. Then animal posters won two years in a row. “That threw us!” But not for long: Keller cleverly included both plant and animal in her winning design.
She knew she wanted to depict a cherry tomato plant, so she asked herself, “What goes with a cherry tomato? What would appeal to everyone?” At the same time, she was illustrating a children’s book that her father had written that included crows and hummingbirds, so she had crows on her mind.
Even her “losing” entries were winners. Her design of four children at the Fair’s garden parade was used on the Fair’s volunteer poster for years, “a nice consolation,” she says.
Some of Keller’s other artwork is included in MOFGA’s Children’s Vegetable Parade Coloring Book, which was compiled by several artists and offers not just coloring but instructions for making costumes for the parade and for other celebrations of the earth. In fact, Keller has been immersed in the parade since she started coming to the Fair. “The first year, I thought you had to make your own costume, so I did that.” She’s been helping with the parade ever since, and now coordinates the Fair’s event, which she describes as “like a little art happening. When we march around [the Fairgrounds], it’s so funky! People just stop and look at us and laugh. It takes people out of their own world” and makes them feel part of the whole entity that is the Fair. (And you don’t have to bring your own costume.)
Keller and her MOFGA-member family embody the spirit of the Fair and MOFGA as they own a share of Austin Moore’s Uncas Farm CSA and enjoy shopping at the Uncas Farm store, managed by Moore’s daughter, Rebecca Haines. (Keller’s winning poster will be available at Uncas Farm’s store, by the way.) The Kellers did a cooperative maple syrup operation with MOFGA’s apprenticeship coordinator Rosey Guest this year, with the Kellers collecting the sap and Guest boiling it. And, despite membership in Moore’s CSA, Keller “has to grow my own tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and spinach” – crops she loves, especially ‘Sweet Chelsea’ and ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes. She also keeps a couple of chickens.
“It’s clever that MOFGA does this poster contest,” Keller concludes. “It’s another reason to go to the Fair. Some people have collections … They have to go to the Fair to get their new poster or T-shirt.” Given the raw sense of nature that her crow proclaims and the mouth-watering sense that her tomatoes elicit, Fairgoers will have to add this year’s design to their collections.