Dallas—The State Fair of Texas has been a Dallas staple since 1905 with roots as far back as 1886. The fair attracts folks from all over the country to enjoy shows, music, shopping, and food.
Many local artisans entered the fair’s Creative Arts contest, and some won a first, second, third or an honorable mention ribbon.
Sharon Alexander Gunnels of Coppell won second place for her large pieced quilt and an honorable mention for a machine-quilted wall hanging. The first time she entered the competition was in 2020, when she won first place and Best of Show for a large pieced quilt entry.
“I have always admired the quilts that were entered,” Gunnels said. “Last year, a friend challenged me to do it.
“It usually takes me 3-5 months to choose fabrics, cut the pieces, sew them together and quilt it. Sometimes it will take longer if I have to look for just the right fabric,” Gunnels said. “It is always fun to win a ribbon, but the process of selecting fabrics and putting different fabrics together is a fun way to challenge yourself.
“I am a member of Trinity Valley Quilters Guild and two quilting bees. This companionship and kinship is what makes quilting such a big part of my life.”
Grand Prairie resident Barbara Clevenger had a good year, winning third place for her large crochet afghan and crochet shawl, second place for a small crochet afghan, first place for a crochet poncho. This is her second time competing at the fair.Her first competition was in 2018, and she took ribbons home that year as well.
“I was so excited [in 2018] to be awarded second place for a crocheted shawl and honorable mention for a crocheted afghan,” Clevenger said. “I just had to try again to see if I could do better.I do believe each entry in the fair is truly a work of art. The talent these artists have is amazing, and I am so honored to have my work on display with theirs.”
Karen Goebel, who lives in Irving, won an honorable mention for her small crocheted afghan.
“I’ve [made entries for the fair]for about 12 years,” Goebel said. “I usually enter every year, but there have been some years I have skipped.
“I actually started back when I was a teenager. My mother used to make them.She tried to teach me.As a teenager, I got irritated with her,and she got irritated with me, because I didn’t do it just like she did. This was back in the day before YouTube videos. I got some ‘how-to’ books, and I sat there and taught myself. I find it very therapeutic and will even take my crocheting supplies with me on vacation.
“I think this [afghan] probably took about six months to make.I still am working part-time, and I worked on it when I could sit down here and there. I don’t sell them or anything. I give them as gifts. I gave a whole bunch to an assisted living place. I don’t sell them simply because then it would become a job.”
Susan Edgley, a resident of Coppell, had a great year with her photography and art.
“I won first place in Designer Craftsman – String Art; third place in State Fair Theme Photography: first place in Flora/Close-up photography; third place in Insect Photography; and an honorable mention in Domestic Animal Photography,” Edgley said. “I entered the Creative Arts contest at the fair for the first time in 2017. Although I had attended the State Fair for years and always enjoyed the Creative Arts exhibitions, I never considered entering the competition myself until 2017.
“I was apprehensive, because the work presented at the fair is exceptional. But I took the plunge and entered a few images and an art piece. I was stunned to learn I earned two ribbons: third place for a photo and an honorable mention for the art piece. It boosted my confidence, and I have been submitting entries ever since.
“I am grateful to have placed every year I have entered, particularly in the photography category, which is the most competitive. In 2021, there were over 2,200 photo submissions. Since 2017 I have won a total of 13 ribbons.
“The State Fair of Texas is special. I love its traditions and its ties to Texan values and roots. It is an honor to have my work showcased with so many other talented artists and to be viewed by thousands of fairgoers at this extraordinary and memorable venue.I have also been impressed with the way the Creative Arts team manages the exhibition. They are very organized, and they handle the art and images with care. As an artist, this is important to me.
“I spent easily over 40 hours each working on the two art pieces I submitted this year. There were a lot of late nights. One entry was a State Fair-themed paper cut, and the other was a string art floral piece. Both were new ventures for me and much of the time was spent designing and prototyping the art. I also love photography, and I try to get out on weekends and shoot images as much as I can.”
There were several categories for young people as well. Grand Prairie resident,Martin Wanyoike, a 16-year-old student at DeBakey High School for Health Professions, had a good year, winning ribbons in the spice cake, the white/yellow cake, and the pound cake categories.
“This was actually my second time competing,” Wanyokie said. “I usually go to the fair every year. But as far as competing, my first time was in 2019. I actually won four times that year, and I decided to compete again this year.
“I’m Kenyan, so coming from that culture, we’re very centered around cooking at home. We don’t do a lot of takeout. We don’t really go to places to eat. What’s left to do is cook at home. Baking wasn’t my first passion. I love regular cooking.
“Funny enough, my parents and my grandparents can’t bake for the life of them, but they can cook. That means there aren’t a lot of ingredients in the house for baking. I had to be creative a lot of times, and I had to teach myself how to cook. I didn’t have a cookbook. I didn’t have recipes or anything like that, so I literally use whatever’s in the pantry.
“For example, a few months ago, I remember being in the kitchen and there was nothing really to heat up,” Wanyokie said. “There was nothing ready, so my mom just told me, ‘Do whatever you want with whatever’s in there.’There might be some spaghetti, a few eggs, or something like that. She’s like, ‘Good luck,’ because she didn’t know what to do with it.
“I got in there and cooked for everybody, and they loved it. Teaching myself how to cook kind of inspired me to go ahead and compete, because I thought if my family and neighbors love it, I wanted to see how far I could take it.
“I think I got a lot of my creativity from cooking.A lot of my problem solving [ability] is from my mom, because there are times where she’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t follow a recipe.’ Like when someone asks her how much salt she puts [in a recipe], she doesn’t know what to tell them, because the amount changes depending on the taste. I adopted the same thing, and to a lot of people that will seem a little bit unorganized.
“I believe the most important thing about cooking is the taste,” Wanyokie said. “The most beautiful cake or the most gourmet looking dish out there made by some world-renowned chef is great, but if it doesn’t taste good, then what’s the point?”
Aubrey Havemann, a 15-year-old student at Coppell High School, won first place in the cupcake category and an honorable mention in the cookie category.
“My dad cooks and bakes a lot,” Havemann said. “He would always make me and my brother’s birthday cakes and stuff like that. He would let us help him, and it was always super fun. I started baking by myself, and I found it really, really fun, and so I would do it more and more often.”
Some food vendors and contest entrants have become State Fair food staples.
“We have been here 52 years,” said Christi Erpillo, the daughter of “Fernie” of Fernie’s Funnel Cakes. “When we originally started, we were the first people to do nachos.”
“In the 1980s, Mother and Daddy were in Branson, Missouri at a square dance, and they saw the funnel cakes,” Erpillo said. “They came back [to Texas] and asked the fair people if they could sell funnel cakes out there.
“We were the first people to bring funnel cakes to the fair. That happened about 13 years after we were already established there. For the longest time, we were the only people allowed to sell funnel cakes,but then they started letting other vendors do it. But there are still many customers that will only eat at Fernie’s Funnel Cakes. That’s a big honor.”
Another honor that Fernie’s received this year was winning best in their class in ‘D Magazine’s’ “Favorite State Fair of Texas Food” contest with their fried toffee crunch cake. The contest was judged by the people, not professional judges. They have also won a “Big Tex” award, which honors the best of the best at the fair 17 times in 16 years.
You can view photos of the winners and other fun moments from the fair below: