Roger Williams holds up a hand-carved horn at the Oregon State Fair. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

On an overcast Wednesday morning, Roger Williams scrutinized multimedia creations in Columbia Hall at the Oregon State Fair.

He spent about an hour looking at items like a miniature trailer with hand-sewn pillows or a wooden chopping board with a heart in the center.

When he’s done, he assigns a ribbon – blue, red or lilac.

He judges a small section of the vast expanse of categories of handmade goods, including everything from jams to woodworking.


Williams, the executive director of the Willamette Art Center, said he was asked to judge three years ago.

Since then, he said, the number of items being judged has grown substantially. There were more than 4,000 items to judge this year.

Williams said people are more engrossed in their own creations now than ever before.

“We compete in our everyday life in some aspect or another. This is something you did on your own, so it’s an accomplishment,” he said.

The judging isn’t always easy, he said. While some pieces may not be art he’s personally interested in, that’s not the point. He judges on authenticity and craftsmanship, not solely aesthetic.

The "Spruceless Goose" is a steampunk sculpture on exhibit in Columbia Hall at the Oregon State Fair. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Williams said he doesn’t know the skill level a person is bringing to the art, but sometimes its apparent.

In the corner of the building is a more than 5,000-pound metal steampunk sculpture depicting a pilot flying a plane with the words “Spruceless Goose” on the back. The title is a play on the Spruce Goose, a famous wooden hulk of a plane. The sculpture – made of various metal parts like a wood stove and propeller – wasn’t even entered into a competition. Instead it’s on display for fairgoers.

At a neighboring table, Williams held up a horn with a meticulous flower pattern carved into the base.

“The amount of time and thought put into that is incredible,” he said.

Williams is as interested in the art as he is in the story behind it. He points to a display of a junkyard made up of model cars coated to look like they’re covered in dust. Williams wondered aloud if the cars were something the artist had on his shelf or if he constructed them with the intention of turning them into junk.

“Normally you put so much pride into your models,” Williams said.

The junkyard got a blue ribbon. 

A model junkyard at the Oregon State Fair Wednesday. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

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