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Getting creative at the county fair: Brainerd woman submits 35 exhibits in 35th year

Ruthann Kostek of Brainerd shows off her first-place ribbon for her origami flowers in a vase she entered at the Crow Wing County Fair. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 3
Peggy Fragale of Breezy Point smiles as she holds her painting that won a sweepstakes ribbon in the hobbies, crafts and arts division at the Crow Wing County Fair. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 3
Christine Warner and her 13-year-old granddaughter Chloe Nelson hang up a quilt Tuesday, July 31, in the Fine Arts Building at the Crow Wing County Fair in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 3

From dinner rolls and coffee cake to chocolate chip cookies and pies to canning goods and relishes to quilts and table runners to afghans and rugs—the list of fine arts entries goes on and on at the Crow Wing County Fair.

For Ruthann Kostek of Brainerd, it has been a 35-year journey. This year, Kostek entered 35 of her fine arts creations into the county fair, which opened Tuesday, July 31, to celebrate her 35th year of fair participation. Kostek has made greeting cards, bears, stuffed animals, cross-stitching, decorated kitchen, guest and regular towels, origami flowers and table runners, to name a few items. She said she typically enters about 25-30 items a year.

Kostek said she learned her crafting skills from her grandmother and her home economics teachers at Brainerd High School, where she graduated in 1969.

She said she set a goal to have all her 35 items done by her late husband's birthday on April 30. She finished May 5, which is "pretty close" enough.

"It's a stress reliever and it's very comforting," Kostek said of creating art. "I am very proud of my stuff. I am meticulous, pretty fussy and check for threads, tie good knots. ... I really love it. I am a beautician by trade so I think that is where the creativity began."

People from around the county submitted more than 1,000 entries for the judging contest of the fine arts exhibits.

Superintendent Christine Warner of the Fine Arts Building explained how the fine art entries are categorized and judged. People were given a July 25 deadline to submit their artwork or craft. Each item is placed in a category—what county fair organizers call departments—and each department breaks down the items into classes and then into lots, which specifies exactly what the item is.

For instance, Department 40 is baking and there are many classes under baking including classes for plain dough, yeast bread and rolls, cake baking, pies, cream pies, candy, dehydrated food and sugar-free treats. Then there are classes for youth baking for grades kindergarten through sixth grade, seventh through ninth grade, 10th through 12th grade, senior citizens and people who live in nursing homes or are handicapped.

There are eight lots under the class of candy, which are fudge, divinity, penuche, fondant, caramels, peanut brittle, mints and others.

Warner, who learned her fine arts skills from her grandmother, said when she was young she entered her work into departments 80-81, which are hobbies, crafts and art. There are 38 classes under Department 80 alone in which prizes are given out. But people don't submit items for the prize money as first place is $4, second place is $3 and third place is $2. In some categories, people win receive gift certificates or prizes, such as a cake decorating kit from businesses.

Warner said she began helping out in the fine arts building 16 years ago, with the past three years as the lead organizer of the fine arts exhibit production. She was at the fair with her mother, who worked in the administration building, and staff was looking for help, so Warner said she would.

"And the rest is history," Warner said of all her years at the county fair.

Warner receives assistance from her two grandchildren: Clifford Nelson, 15, has helped for the past three years and Chloe Nelson, 13, has helped out for the past two years. Chloe said she helps place all the items in the right spots where they will be displayed in the Fine Arts Building, handwrites the names and other things on each piece, helps the judges and places the ribbons, among other things.

Chloe grinned and said her grandmother makes her work really hard and she never gets to sit down.

"No rest for the wicked," Warner responded with a laugh.

This year, there were five sweepstakes ribbons given out—which are the best of the best of the fine arts entries. Sweepstake winners are Claire Dano of Brainerd for youth baking; Mary Brauch of Staples for quilting; Rona Popowitz of Merrifield for homemaking crafts; Kristi Kelly of Brainerd for garment making; and Peggy Fragale of Breezy Point for hobbies, crafts and arts.

Fragale and her husband were looking around the Fine Arts Building for a while and couldn't find her watercolor painting of a vase with flowers. To her surprise, she saw it in the center with a sweepstake ribbon on it.

"It was so exciting," Fragale said when she saw the big white ribbon. "It's such a thrill to see."

This is the first time the Breezy Point resident submitted entries into the Crow Wing County Fair.

"I've been sick for several years and have been unable to do my artwork," Fragale said. "But I started to feel better again so I began doing art again."

Fragale said she started drawing when she was 7-8 years old and kept at it. She went to Dakota County Technical College to perfect her art. Fragale submitted four other items in the fair: a pen and ink drawing of tire swing on a tree; an acrylic painting of a mountain lion; a wolf painting; and a rocking chair with a quilt over it done in pencil.

"I love art. It's such a good feeling (creating it)," she said. "I think what it is, is God is such a creator and when I paint I feel his glory."