SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon State Fair visitors have more quilts, crafts and canned goods to marvel over this year, thanks to a volunteer-powered overhaul of the creative living contests.
Participation in the Americraft Cookware Center (Jackman-Long Building) competitions has about doubled since last year, according to fair officials.
Much of the credit belongs to volunteer committees that have taken charge of paper crafts, woodworking, fine arts/photo/calligraphy/poetry, quilting, farm/garden/floral and other creative living contests.
Most committees are led by entrants who complained about disorganization at the 2012 fair after veteran coordinators were laid off. Officials from the fair and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the fair, heard the critics, then enlisted their help.
These volunteers have revamped contest entry, judging and prizes, and arranged for remote dropoff points to encourage wider participation.
"We're doing it for the love of the art," said Jan Minten, who is overseeing the quilt contests with Diane Bowden. "We want to see it continue. We want younger people to be interested in the art."
The two sat in the midst of the Quilt Walk in the Americraft center, where eye-level displays helped show off the makers' skills.
Volunteers walked the wide aisles between quilts, explaining the craft and cautioning visitors not to touch the fabric. Meanwhile, members of the Sublimity Quilters demonstrated their skill at a row of sewing machines.
"Quilters become a family," said Minten. "You could not ask another quilter to do it and have them say no."
Such changes helped raise the number of quilting entries from 150 last year to 220 this year, Bowden said.
So did the pair's efforts to line up gift certificates for winners. The two drew up a nationwide list of quilt-supply companies and other potential donors; fair staffers followed up the leads.
How much time has this taken? "All our lives since last October," Minten said with a smile.
Scrapbooking, stamping and other paper crafts might have gone unnoticed last year, when about 60 entries were crammed into small cases.
This year's display boasts 421 entries, thanks to the efforts of co-chairs Kathi Schie and Jan Castle.
"We beat the bushes," said Castle, sending two rounds of letters to every paper-craft store in the state.
The result is 11 tall, well-lit cases, freshly painted in white, with entries displayed to inspire viewers.
Castle pointed out redesigned labels listing the artist, hometown and any prize for each entry -- details that weren't visible last year.
"Those are the three things everyone wants to see," she said.
Out of sight on the labels is additional room for judges' comments -- a touch that crafters value because they want to improve, Castle said.
She and Schie each will log about 300 volunteer hours by the time the fair ends on Monday, Castle said. Even so, they plan to sign on again next year to use their hard-won experience.
"Aren't we nuts?" she said. "But we've learned, this first year."
Last year, professional photographer Joel Zak was so upset over inconsistent rules and closed judging that he actively discouraged his colleagues from entering the fair.
But he was sufficiently impressed with state officials' response that he led this year's committee for photography and fine arts.
I'm doing penance," he said.
He viewed the work as an opportunity to carry on the legacy of longtime supervisors Mary Boedigheimer and Sheila Powell, who were let go in 2012.
This year's photo entries held steady, but fine arts entries were way up, Zak said. He attributed part of that to efficient online registration and payment, and the establishment of remote dropoff points at Sleep Country stores in Eugene, Bend, Medford and Portland.
Another innovation this year: letting arts entrants put a price on their work. By Thursday, that had resulted in eight to 10 sales, Zak said.
The Best of Show entry in fine arts -- a gourd embellished with wood-burned images of whales -- sold the first day for $1,500, he said.
"I'm done with starving artists," said Zak, noting that working photographers can't afford to spend time with no hope for sales. "I would love to make this a venue for selling art.
Zak figured that he had put about 300 hours into the fair since October.
Will he be back for next year's fair?
He paused a long time and sighed. "Yeah. I'll make it official. I've been making notes about what to improve. I guess I'm doing it because I will be doing it again next year."
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com