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Eugene Weekly : Oregon Country Fair 2010 : 7.8.2010

 

Oregon Country Fair 2010

Fair History, Family History A smattering of stories of the real people behind the magic

Music, Spoken Word, Juggling  . . . A doctor with a clown costume, plus a whole lot more

Fair Process Behind the scenes of the fairyland

Pedal Power The OCF greens up even more

Missing Kevin at the Fair Longtime Fair backer remembered

Fair History, Family History

A smattering of stories of the real people behind the magic

Story by Vanessa Salvia | Photos by Todd Cooper

Everyone at the Oregon Country Fair has a story to tell; after four decades, the Fair holds entire family histories in its collective memory. Unsurprisingly, Eugene’s Saturday Market and the Oregon Country Fair are intrinsically linked. After all, the weekly hippie haven is where many of the long-time Fair crafters got their start 

Recalling the Fair’s early years with the people who were there is an exciting but slippery path to walk, a turning wheel with as many spokes as a tie-died starburst. The intent here was to begin in some type of logical order — numerical booth order, maybe — but nothing is that linear where the Fair is concerned! We’ve done what we can, and here, we introduce you to a handful of remarkable people who can be found every week at Eugene’s Saturday Market, but come Fair weekend, they disappear, only to re-emerge in the woods west of town.



Bangkok Grill Saman Harnsongkram, Booth Number 679

Saman Harnsongkram graduated from the UO and liked Eugene so much he didn’t want to move away. “My girlfriend and I then were like, ‘OK, what can we do if we want to live in Eugene?’” says Harnsongkram. In those days, the Saturday Market was held April through Christmas. “So we went to Saturday Market in November 1984 and said, “We can do this,’ and then in April of 1985 when Saturday Market season started up again, I have a booth next to Toby (Alves) at Tofu Palace. She told me about Country Fair, so I applied and got in.” 

Harnsongkram came to Eugene from Bangkok, Thailand, in 1975 to study. He graduated with a degree in finance from the UO. “I knew then, I don’t want to work in the corporate world or work in a bank, and I didn’t want to move out of Eugene.” During college, Harnsongkram worked as a cook at Valley River Inn and the Hilton, so preparing food was something he knew he could bring to the market. Though Harnsongkram is now a well-known vendor of delicious pad Thai, in his early years he first sold rice and chicken curry. He switched to pad Thai his second year at the Fair. “I had a vegetarian person come by and ask if I can make anything veggie, so I made pad Thai for him and then I dropped the chicken curry.” It took the couple a while to realize the success they have now. “They didn’t have Thai restaurants in Eugene then, so it took us two, three years to educate people in Eugene about Thai food. We have grown quite a bit from then.”

Harnsongkram still loves Eugene after all these years, partly because of the friendly people and its size. “I’m still happy, but I’m getting old,” Harnsongkram says. “Eugene is getting big, and I need to think about retiring.” He’s 54, and wants to retire by 60, when he’s still healthy and strong enough to travel. So get your pad Thai while you still can! Bangkok Grill is easy to find; it hoists a big banner by Shady Grove. 



ShapeShifters Spirit Arts Raven Moon, Booth Number 961

About 26 years ago, Raven Moon was a massage therapist in Corvallis, and he knew some people who had a booth at the Fair doing massage. “So that’s what I did for about three years,” Moon says. “I worked all the time and I loved it, but then I burned out on doing massage.” At the same time he shifted away from massage, he made himself a rattle. “It turned out great, and people just really loved it,” he remembers. “I stopped doing massage and got into rattle making.”

Moon’s early rattles were a papier-mâché stick with a ball on top, no crystals and very simple shapes. They slowly expanded into different creatures and animals, with crystals embedded into them, Moon says, including beautiful handheld rattle masks he’s been making for two years. Many of his rattles are traditionally rattle-shaped, while some of his work is small pendants, like amulets, hanging from cords. Inside each rattle is a mixture of semiprecious stones, giving them a natural heft and earthy tone quality. 

Moon’s favorite rattle is an impressive “trog,” a squat hybrid of a troll and frog, about 12 inches in circumference and deep green in color. Moon creates some of his creatures using sawdust mâché. His brown figures are the natural color of the sawdust, while painting with chlorophyll of alfalfa provides a green color. “The first year I tried to get into the Fair I made a couple really nice rattles and they didn’t accept them and I didn’t know why,” he says. “Then I went back the next year and they accepted them, and every year since it’s been wonderful!”



Ephemera Diane McWhorter , Booth Number 175

Diane McWhorter was already making little crafts when she arrived in Eugene in 1976, so heading to the Fair was a natural for her, but as for many people, memories of exact dates are lost in the fog of time. “I think I might have snuck in the first year, but then I got to share the space somewhere back in there,” she says. McWhorter made cards and calendars and started silkscreening posters and then T-shirts in 1984. “I got my own spot in 1985 where I’ve been ever since,” right across from Community Village.

McWhorter moved here from Delaware via Colorado, after traveling across the country, inspired to take up itinerant sign painting by reading Woody Guthrie’s biography. “I had a Willys panel jeep and I would pull into a town and find some jobs painting signs, on windows or anything, whatever they needed,” she says. McWhorter moved to Eugene because she had an aunt already living here. “She must have told me about the Fair I guess, and then it just naturally followed,” McWhorter says. “Everybody did Fair, so I did Fair. I was 25, and it was a wonderful, great period in my life. I stumbled out here and stayed here ever since.”

McWhorter’s niche — aside from being an accomplished Jell-o artist — is silkscreened items such as T-shirts with tree designs and silk flags with the authorized OCF peach logo (She also creates unauthorized logo shirts with slogans such as “Country Fair Geezer.” She doesn’t sell them during public hours though, so don’t expect to leave with one!) Her other connection is to a group of women artists known as the Radar Angels. Today, they provide “fairy ambience,” wearing fairy costumes and spreading glitter, making the journey through the Fairgrounds a bit more magical. McWhorter says four of the Radar Angels recently formed a writing group, meeting weekly to write down their life stories. 



White Light Crystal Michael Bertotti, Booth Number L29

Michael Bertotti began as a Saturday Market crafter, and remembers the days when the Country Fair organizers used to visit the market booths and give out applications, encouraging crafters to sign up for Fair booth space. “There wasn’t really a system,” he says, “so I just went to them and said, ‘Can I be in the Fair?’ and they said, ‘Whaddaya got?’ They went and looked at my booth and said I could do it.” There’s a little dispute in the records about when this actually was. Bertotti believes he began his Fair booth in 1980, but Fair records of Bertotti’s booth go back only to 1981. “Either they weren’t keeping records or we weren’t,” he laughs. When Bertotti joined Saturday Market in ’78, or maybe ’76 — “Memory … not so good!” he jokes — he made windchimes out of old silverware. He began adding crystals to the windchimes, and then shifted to making “crystal sunbeamers,” strings of Swarovski crystals that scatter light into rainbows. 

Bertotti came to Eugene from Modesto, Calif., in his early 20s, around 1976, to be with a lady and go to school. “I didn’t realize I was on the long-term program!” he says. “The Fair’s a pretty special place. It was designed to interface with people, to educate them about different ways of living, and that you can make a living through art and heal and transform society,” Bertotti says. “Things always change over time, but there’s still a lot of magic out there. It’s what we call this indescribable thing that makes things work against all odds. Sometimes the most magical things happen.” 

Bertotti tells of a woman asking him what kind of pass she needed for her vehicle. “I was telling her what you need to do is go get this kind of pass, and I was just kind of pointing to say, ‘Over there,’ you know, and at this point a fairy lady came by and put a pass in my hand.” Yes, it was the pass she needed. Bertotti and the lady were dumbfounded, but the little girls with her knew it was a real fairy that provided the pass, and began dancing around singing about the fairy. “Sometimes there’s no explaining it,” Bertotti says. “It happens.”



Bright Promise Tie Dye Levana Appletree, Booth Number 347 

Levana Appletree came out here from Colorado in ’81 with a group of people from a cooperative house they called Appletree. Boulder was beautiful, but Levana was ready to sink her roots into the green hills of Oregon. When the Appletree house arrived in Eugene, they were told about the Country Fair. “You couldn’t be here without hearing about it,” she recalls. “We went out to the Fair but for only two hours. We didn’t know anything about it, so we went out late in the day and realized there was this entire world out there, a whole universe. We’d never seen anything like it.” 

In the early ’80s, Oregon experienced a bad recession, and Mount St. Helens had erupted the year before the Appletrees arrived in Eugene. “We were basically considered insane to be looking for work in Oregon since all these calamities were happening,” Levana says. “When we found the Fair, we thought that was a sign that we had made the right choice.” The next year the group managed to get a Fair booth, an unheard of feat considering that they had never sold at Saturday Market, never even made any crafts to sell. But another member of the group, Wahaba, taught Levana to tie dye. “This was incredible luck, so I of course hung on to the booth for dear life,” Levana says. Her Saturday Market booth came later in the ’80s, and these days Levana also works around town doing landscaping and organic gardening.

Levana’s son, Yona, helps her with the booth and also provides Fair entertainment — fire dancing, juggling, unicycling. “We defined our own reality, we made our own normal. And it’s true for hundreds of people, not just a couple of us,” Levana says. “People are attracted to this normal we created and it begins to be something people want for themselves. You begin to think twice and think maybe organic food is a good idea and maybe biodiesel makes sense. These things we’ve been saying for how many years suddenly don’t seem so crazy anymore. I’ve been there long enough to see that and that’s the most satisfying thing.”



White Raven Art Works Will Gibboney, Booth Number 002

Will Gibboney was “a traveling hippie,” he says. His family lived in a Volkswagen van and somehow ended up in Eugene in the mid-’80s. “We were just passing through here, and somebody told us about the Fair,” he says. “We headed out there and really liked it.” While living in remote northern California, he worked as a schoolteacher at a school that was active in the Fair’s Community Village. He came to Eugene regularly to work the Fair booth. One year, he came here with a what he calls a powwow drum and opened the Fair with a drum ceremony. After that, in 1992, he got a job at the Fair with craft inventory, checking people’s crafts, and did that job until 2002. 

He moved to Eugene from northern California around ’95 and worked as a Head Start preschool teacher. “Those of us that were in Head Start at the time were all kind of counterculture people,” he says. That school also got into a spot at Community Village doing outreach and education. Also around 1995, his drums and T-shirts were accepted into the Fair, and he found booth space to share. “That’s when I quit my regular job outside of the Fair, and that’s also when I decided to quit my Fair job and just do my craft,” Gibboney says.

Gibboney makes his drums out of elk or buffalo rawhide (which he gets from hunters and scrapes and prepares himself) and Alaskan yellow cedar wood for the frames. “I had a drum and took it to the school where I worked, and one of the kids took a magic marker to it, so I had to cover it up with art,” he says. “I picked this kind of art because it wasn’t personal. I picked something from a book and tried to put it on the drum, and it was really hard, but I figured it out.” He traveled to British Columbia and went to museums and would sketch traditional Native designs, which have inspired his drum and T-shirt designs ever since.  





Dana’s Cheesecake Bakery
Dana and Colleen Bauman, Booth Number L91 

One of the most visible and well-known booths at the Fair is Dana’s Cheesecake Bakery. Husband and wife duo Dana and Colleen Bauman began baking and selling their cheesecakes at the end of 1979 at the Saturday Market. “The next year we applied for the Fair,” Colleen says, “and then to pick your spot there was a foot race, and I’m glad Dana was a much younger man at the time!” The spot didn’t stay the same over the 30 years. “We started up on the Shady Lane just past the Shady Grove stage, and then the Fair asked us to move when they opened the Left Bank, because we’re a 24-hour booth.” That gave the Fair a way to light up the new area as well as encourage people to visit the new side of the Fair grounds. “Dana has baked every cheesecake we’ve ever sold, so it’s very much a family business,” Colleen says. “Our daughter is 19, and you can see her working alongside Dana, and then I come in and do the midnight shift, so there’s always a family person there.” 

Both Colleen, 55, and Dana, 54, went to Churchill High School, and both attended Saturday Market from the time it started. Dana went off to college in Portland while Colleen began selling baskets at the market. Dana returned and helped with her booth, but he would get bored and wander over to the food side, mulling over the idea of selling the cheesecakes he had learned to make while working at a restaurant in college. “He got a space, and the first week it was very clear that I wouldn’t be doing baskets anymore!” Colleen remembers. 

“It’s a pleasure to be part of this community and a community that supports hand-crafted and handmade,” she says. “We don’t take that for granted. I consider Saturday Market and the Country Fair my life’s work because I believe very much in what those organizations stand for. It’s been an amazing community to be a part of, and 30 years later, I still feel so blessed!”