Editor's note: A previous version of this article misspelled Rick Sheldon's name. The issue has been corrected.
When it comes to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, Prior Lake residents pull out all the stops to put a plethora of creations and treats on the state’s trade and agriculture stage.
Thirteen Lakers took home ribbons across 23 categories — including 10 in first place, seven in second place and three in third.
Irene Saatoff, a 15-year resident of Prior Lake, said for years her daughter, Kateryna Nechay, has been petitioning her to enter her one-of-a-kind Ukranian-style, seed-decorated eggs into the fair’s crop art competition. She finally relented, earning a second-place green ribbon for novice crop artwork.
For over 20 years, Saatoff has been creating intricate designs with seeds on egg shells, spending anywhere from 80 to 100 hours on each egg. She mimics an ancient style of egg decorating — one that eventually adapted into the famous Ukranian pysanka, or decorated Easter eggs — that layers small seeds and rice in detailed natural patterns.
Saatoff’s creations have filled her kitchen cabinet for years. This year Nechay’s persistence paid off and brought Saatoff’s eggs to thousands of new eyes.
Now Saatoff is all in: She said she’s determined to get that blue ribbon.
Another Prior Lake resident, 71-year-old Pamela Clauson, has a similar dedication to fair success. For several years Clauson has submitted her quilts and wall hangings to the needlecraft and quilting judges. She’s taken home three first-place ribbons in the process and is set on winning at least two more.
“I want to give all of my children a blue ribbon from the Minnesota State Fair,” Clauson said. “It’s one of my goals in life. Maybe it’s a stupid goal for me, but I thought it would be something nice because they’ve really taken an interest in my sewing.”
For Clauson, quilting and sewing are an expression of her gratitude. She said she can’t begin to estimate how many quilts she’s made and given away to people like her doctors and surgeons. The fair offers her a chance to celebrate her passion with a group of like-minded, creative Minnesotans.
Newer competitor Rick Sheldon said he’s humbled by the amount of skill and creativity he found this year in the creative activities building.
Sheldon was inspired by the 100-year-old baker Marjorie Johnson, a legend in her own right at the state fair, to try his hand at pies and the fair’s baking competition, but he branched out this year and submitted a handcrafted homage to the state.
Sheldon carved a 24-by-14-inch replica of the state out of pipestone. He estimated he spent somewhere between 300 and 400 hours carving, sanding and glazing the sculpture in beeswax. Though he didn’t take home a ribbon, Sheldon said he was honored to have the piece displayed in the handcraft category.
“I never went through that area of the state fair before,” Sheldon said. “I will go there every year now, because it’s amazing the detail and amount of work that people put in.”
That sentiment was echoed by local hobby beekeeper Rick van Vliet, who took home a third-place prize with his squeeze honey in 2017. He just missed the qualifications this year with his 1-pound jar of white honey from his bees in Elko New Market.
He said part of the magic of the fair competitions is having something that inspires enough pride for a submission.
“None of the state fair prizes are big money prizes ... but it’s the fun of having a product that you know is presentable and excellent,” Van Vliet said.
More information on how to enter the fair’s competitions and each category’s rules can be found at mnstatefair.org/competitions.