It seems like months since these happy little bees rolled into the state fairgrounds on the back of a truck, but really, it was just over two weeks ago. My husband was over at fairgrounds as the carnival rides were arriving for the fair, and snapped some photos of the unassembled Bumble Bee Bop ride – the cutest ride in the world – knowing I’d jump at the chance to paint it. I got to work on it right away, but then the Fair started, and I put it aside as I went into information gathering mode. I only get eighteen days to gather reference material for the rest of the year, so I have to make the most of it. I shot – and organized – thousands of photos and hours of video. I sketched, and took notes for my book. Sometimes I just sat and soaked up the atmosphere. I love the fair.
“The Buzz” by Lesley Spanos. Acrylic painting on Multimedia Artboard, 9″ x 11″. Copyright ©2011 Lesley Spanos, all rights reserved. NFS
Now a little about the tragedy at the fair:
Last Saturday morning, the weather was gorgeous and moods were light. Someone was playing classic rock from the ’70s over the PA system, and people were singing to themselves. Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, and welcome to the Hotel California. I saw one woman dancing in the street, and I swear, if the rest of us felt we could sing and dance we would’ve joined her in an impromptu performance. I watched weiner dog races, a pole vaulting demonstration, and the Governor’s wife as she lead a fitness walk around the grounds. It was one of the best mornings ever at the fair.
That evening, everything changed. Just before Sugarland went onstage for their show, the roof at the main concert stage collapsed in a sudden freak storm, killing
5 6 people and injuring dozens. I had planned to be there that night, but after long back-to-back photo sessions the night before and that morning, I was exhausted, and after a few days at the fair, the cupboard was bare. So instead of going to the fair, I went to the supermarket. On my way out of the store, I was caught in the storm, and I can say firsthand that the wind was utterly freakish. It came out of nowhere, and was strong enough to rock my Jeep. It wasn’t a storm, but a hammer blow from the sky.
The fair was cancelled Sunday, so all we could do was watch the sad news on television. Monday, the fair reopened, but I didn’t go. I had planned to shoot the rodeo that day, but every event scheduled for the grandstand – the rodeo, concerts, harness racing, demolition derby, and fireworks – was cancelled. So I worked on the Bumble Bee Bop painting. I thought the bees would lift my mood, but really, I was annoyed at them for being so cheerful. That’s probably why it took me so long to finish them.
This week I’ve been forced to think about what my State Fair USA project is about. I thought it was all fun, rides, cute animals, and junk food, but maybe I need to dig deeper than that. Someone on the news called the State Fair a “family reunion in Indiana’s back yard.” As a non-native observer, I’d never thought of it that way. Now I feel the need to work more relationships into my paintings.
Here are some shots from yesterday. Due to the ongoing investigation, the roof has not been moved, so it’s a constant reminder of the tragedy.