Collecting posters, prints and T-shirts from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s annual Common Ground Country Fair is a tradition almost as cherished as the fair itself. Every year, fairgoers clamor at the merchandise tent for keepsakes featuring that year’s fun, farm-related design, which is chosen every year through a contest juried by members of the fair steering committee and the MOFGA board of directors.
This year’s design will highlight a pollinator and a native flower.
On Tuesday at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta, MOFGA revealed the winner of its annual Common Ground Country Fair poster contest. The winning design by Portland-based artist Joy Grannis features blooming stalks of scarlet and magenta Monarda flowers, commonly known as bee balm, surrounded by three hovering yellow bees.
“The whole image really pops,” said April Boucher, director of the Common Ground Country Fair. “When we unveiled it at the [Maine Agricultural] Trades Show, people would stand in front of the image and take it all in. It’s a very stop-the-traffic kind of design.”
Grannis said that finding out her design had been chosen was “thrilling.”
“I wanted this for a long time,” she said. “I grew up knowing about the fair and going to the fair. Winning felt so gratifying. I feel so honored.”
Grannis grew up on a homestead on the coast in Washington County. She moved to Portland to study art and environmental planning at the University of Southern Maine.
“I knew that I wanted to do something to do with pollinators and native plants,” Grannis said. “It’s such an important part of healthy farms and gardens. I thought it would be a fitting subject at this time.”
The art features honey bees as “a nod to all of our beekeepers in Maine.”
“They are not native to Maine but are an important pollinator and producer of honey,” Grannis said. “I wanted to highlight [that] area of agriculture.”
Grannis chose Monarda not only because it is native to Maine, but also because it is “a useful and striking flower, [and] I thought it would work well on posters and T-shirts.” Grannis spent time field sketching the flower and its pollinators around her neighborhood of East Bayside, in her own garden, her neighbor’s garden and the nearby Mount Joy Orchard. She made the final design from watercolor and gouache.
The contest judges consider the designs’ adherence to MOFGA’s mission and the educational opportunities it presents, as well as its general style and beauty. The contest is limited to artists who are Maine residents or MOFGA members, who occasionally live out-of-state. This year, the contest received 66 submissions.
“For this round, Joy [Grannis]’s really came to the top,” Boucher said. “Pollinators are always on the list of things we want to support and promote at the fair. It’s also a striking image, so it’s really about being able to bring the message out and spark people’s interest. ”
Grannis has entered the poster contest for the past three years. Each year, she has featured pollinators in some capacity. She said her first submission had a swallowtail butterfly against the moon in a blueberry bush. Her previous submission featuring heirloom Black Oxford apples, apple blossoms and a pollinating bee, was the runner-up in the poster contest, beat out by only Kevin Martin’s winning design featuring his beloved Dexter heifers.
“It was such a fun process applying,” Grannis said. “It’s really cool that they do it. Not only do they support Maine farming communities, but artists as well. I think that’s such a good thing.”
The fair sells thousands posters every year, plus other paraphernalia featuring the winning design. The winning artist receives a $2,500 prize, a MOFGA membership and an article in MOFGA’s quarterly publication. Around 2,000 volunteers that are each given a T-shirt with the design, and the fair has more than 60,000 attendees annually, all of whom could potentially buy merchandise with Grannis’s design (Boucher said she plans to get one herself — maybe even two).
Grannis is most excited about the poster signing at the fair. She said she is already seeing “so many lovely comments” on social media, but she wants to interact with the fair-going community herself.
“I’m curious to see how people respond to the art,” she said. “I want the farming community and people involved to enjoy it. It definitely feels like I’m giving back to my community.”
The 44th annual Common Ground Country Fair will be held Sept. 25-27, but the 2020 poster is available for purchase now through MOFGA’s online Country Store.