The blue ribbon in Crop Art that Linda Paulsen of Hackensack brought home from this year’s Minnesota State Fair was not the first she’d won in her many years of competition.
But it’s probably the one that’s gotten the most attention, thanks in part to social media.
Paulsen’s entry was an image of Lin-Manuel Miranda, playwright and star of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton” —created with 17 different types of seeds, all grown in Minnesota.
When she received her award in late August, a local fan of Miranda read about it and tweeted the news to the actor, who was in the UK at the time.
When he returned to the US Sept. 5, Miranda saw the message and responded: “A blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair?! Linda Paulsen! Those are seeds?! You’ve outdone yourself!”
Pretty soon, Paulsen’s phone was buzzing with calls from family and friends, telling her about Miranda’s response. The story was also picked up by severa; Twin Cities media outlets.
The Crop Art image of Miranda now hangs on the wall of Paulsen’s home near Woman Lake. He’s in good company; Taylor Swift, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and others are nearby, along with northwoods landscapes and a zooful of wild animals.
Linda’s been participating in Crop Art at the State Fair for 51 years. This year she was one of eight people who received a plaque honoring 50 years or more of participation.
Back in 1965 the Crop Art category was created to highlight the various crops that are or can be grown in Minnesota.
Linda’s mother, Lillian Colton entered Crop Art the second year the competition was held, then encouraged her daughter to try it. (The story of crop art and Lillian’s role is told in the book “Seed Queen: The Story of Crop Art and the Amazing Lillian Colton,” available from the Minnesota Historical Society.)
Linda’s no slouch herself when it comes to Crop Art. Over the years she’s won 10 grand champion ribbons and so many blue ribbons she’s lost count.
“The entries were quite diverse this year,” she recalls. “It’s considered an ‘open class,’ where you don’t have to qualify first at a county fair.”
She got the idea for this year’s entry while watching Miranda on “60 Minutes.”
“I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, in his costume, with dark eyes, dark hair. I was impressed with the man. I’ve been doing this so long, I see everything in seeds!”
While seed art is the general term, the art form was renamed “Crop Art” for the Minnesota State Fair.
Linda explains that entrants are limited to using seeds that are grown in Minnesota or are adaptable to be grown in Minnesota.Grasses and grains, vegetable and flower seeds. Parts of plants can also be used.
The image of Taylor Swift, for example, uses corn husk strips for her hair. In a couple of classes, artist may incorporate tree or shrub seeds or leaves. Linda’s portrait of Lucille Ball utilizes pine needles for the hair.
Linda first got her seeds at farm supply stores. Now she finds them at garden supply centers, Countryside Co-op in Hackensack, grocery stores and sometimes buys directly from farmers. She also collects seeds from her own vegetable and flower gardens.
To create Lin-Manuel Miranda’s image, Linda used 17 different types of seeds including:
• Wild rice (hair and beard)
• Camellia, a new seed variety (coat)
• Timothy (complexion)
• German millet (buttons)
• Japanese millet (vest)
• Grits, AKA ground corn (cravat)
In other classes, even more unusual items can be used. In 2018 she entered a flat surface arrangement that used discs from the money plant as flower petals; onion skins as leaves; plus wheat, corn husks, quinona, Sudan grass, poppyseed and colored corn.
Some classes require 100 percent seed coverage; others allow use of paint and fabric in small areas, usually background.
Until recently, Minnesota was the only state fair that had a category for individual Crop Art entries. About three years ago, the state of Iowa inquired and this year they added the category. Pennsylvania also has made inquiries.
“When I see an interesting design, or a person who is popular and that a wide range of ages would recognize, I start thinking about [a crop art image]. At first I did ones I liked. Now I try for a wider variety,” she says.
And as soon as one state fair is over, “I start thinking about the next.”
Crop Art is a growing category at the State Fair. In 2019 there were about 180 entries, up about 30 from 2018. The 26 classes include divisions for amateur and advanced, plus two for out-of-state residents. Rules and regulations are on the Minnesota State Fair website at https://www.mnstatefair.org/competitions/ag-hort-bee/crop-art-and-scarecrow/