Newborn calves and sun-splashed grounds drew a crowd of more than 30,000 people from across New England to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Show and Fair this weekend, making the 148th annual festival a triumph.
“Considering the weather and how hot and humid it was all weekend, everything went fine,” said hall manager Kathy Lobb. “Even [Saturday] night with the threat of bad weather, nobody went into a panic.”
In a livestock barn at the far end of the grounds, two brown and white bull calves were birthed in stalls beyond a paper sign that read, “Excuse us while we have a calf.” The sleepy-eyed calves were born on Thursday at 9:10 p.m. and on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and the sight of them was among the many thrills of the fair.
Inside a plastic box displayed in the exhibit hall, an evolution of a different kind was under way this weekend. Five caterpillars, that on Thursday could be seen wriggling around the live insect collection case and entered into the junior nature competition by Miriam Boardman of Belmont, were by Sunday tucked into delicate chrysalises. In about 10 days the swaddled insects will break from their chrysalises as winged monarch butterflies.
“It’s so neat that this transformation is happening here for everyone to see,” Ms. Lobb said.
The fair was full of animals to observe and pet, like clamorous roosters, mud-soaked piglets and four-year-old Ansel and five-year-old Marley, two shy and docile representatives from the clan of big-eyed alpacas at the grasslands of Island Alpaca. Chomping hay in a pen while children stroked cautious hands over their fiber coats, the alpacas hummed loudly in high-pitched drones.
“All of his buddies are gone,” said Island Alpaca pastoral manager Phillipe Morin, stroking the crimpy fiber-cloaked neck of Ansel. “He is singing the blues about his green pasture.”
In addition to admiring the animals scattered across the fair, children also learned the practicality of livestock. Beneath a small tent staked in the grass, wide-eyed youngsters watched Icelandic sheep lose their chocolate wool coats layer after layer during shearing demonstrations.
But the fairgrounds played host to a variety of attractions beyond shows and demonstrations of livestock this weekend. The 33rd annual medley of woodsmen’s games brought to the grounds a competition rink full of burly men and fierce women with roaring chainsaws and sharpened axes in hand.
“Smoothness is the key,” explained five-year axe-throw veteran Vince Maciel of West Tisbury. “As you throw the axe, you need to use your whole body. You don’t flip your wrist [like] a fishing pole. You need to cast, but not with your wrist, more with your arm. And you can’t grip the axe. If you grip the axe, you will either throw it into the ground or throw it over the target. It takes a lot of skill to get it mastered.”
Mr. Maciel travels the New England fair circuit to compete in the axe throw by chucking an axe overhead into a bull’s eye target. “It’s an event that men can do, women can do and elderly can do,” he says. “There are some older guys who are in their eighties who are really, really good axe throwers and there are a lot of women who are good, too.”
The feminine gusto was certainly not questioned on Sunday when the woodsmen cleared out and women ages 18 to 88 stepped to the competition field to hurl three pounds and eleven ounces of steel over a measured dirt expanse in the women’s skillet throw.
The oldest contestant, 88-year-old Ann Lesnikowski of Vineyard Haven, ambled to the throw-line while clutching her daughter in law’s hand. Once on the field, the gold-jeweled, pink-lipped lady launched a rusted frying pan more than six feet in front of her. “I think it’s fun,” said skillet thrower Ms. Lesnikowski. “It’s something to do at the fair. I like the idea of women being able to compete at possible sports.”
Inside the exhibit hall, the mystical sounds of Andean music played outside on bamboo panpipes by Espiritu Andino resonated while fairgoers examined the 4,104 fair entries contributed by Vineyard community members and visitors.
A blue ribbon hung from the fabric of a vibrant orange, sleeveless, ankle-length frock decked with daisy patches. Called Michelle Obama’s right to bare arms dress, the sundress was stitched for the First Lady by Minor Knight of West Tisbury. “It would be a perfect dress for [Mrs. Obama],” Ms. Lobb said.
Among the fresh-baked cakes, portrait photography, flower bouquets and the dress fashioned for the First Lady, Ms. Lobb, the woman who fits all these entries and more into the hall, cast an awed gaze around her own display.
“Really — even for me — it takes you the whole four days to see this stuff.”