Mr. Potato Head and his distant relatives, Mr. Cauliflower Ear and Mr. Squash Neck, would have felt right at home Tuesday afternoon at the Salt Lake County Fair's 4-H Veg-Art Contest.
Nineteen 4-H kids, aged 9 to 15, from across the valley brought vegetables from their home gardens and cut, chopped, poked, peeled, pinned, scooped and toothpicked their entries with a creative zeal previously unmatched by any sculptor known to work in the artistic medium of zucchini.The youngsters shaped cucumbers, carrots, spuds, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, beets, radishes, broccoli and mushrooms into dazzling works - portraits of siblings, caricatures of famous people, even the big island of Hawaii complete with volcano and palm tree.
Some of the young artists, searching for the most appropriate veggies with which to express the human condition, chose to work in exotic media like kohlrabi - a pale green beet-like root.
Various members of the squash family - butternut, spaghetti and summer among them - were favored by others.
The kids were well-equipped, if not well-armed. Everyone had at least one knife, of course, and some brought more - each one needed to add particular subtlety to the art, such as a light shading of vegetable peeling here, a delicate wedge-cut there.
USU Extension Services agents Jean Kobayashi and Mark Nelson were prepared with a first-aid kit in case one of the artists accidently sliced a finger instead of a celery stalk. However, the contest ended without injury.
One artist brought her own salad dressing and mayonnaise. No one was quite sure if they would become part of her sculpture or if the artwork itself was to be the salad course at an after-the-contest picnic.
Kobayashi offered the afternoon's best advice, directed to anxious mothers hovering over their young sculptors. "Parents back off and let the kids give it their best shot."
Dave Glass, 11, West Jordan, fashioned a honeydew melon into a football helmet. His brother Benji, 13, carved a cobra rising from a basket out of spaghetti squash. Another brother, Josh, 15, made a frog perched on a toadstool from yellow squash, potatoes and zucchini.
Rosey Schultz, 10, Riverton, created a turkey from squash, broccoli, radishes and carrots. Jennifer Steen 11, Bennion, turned out a cartoon-character Snork, using squash, carrots and peppers.
The cabbage, squash and mushroom teddy bear by Mataya Gurley, 11, was another highlight, as was an Old Woman Who Lived in a (Squash) Shoe who Had So Many (Bean and Pearl Onion) Children She Didn't Know What To Do, by Martha Puckett, 11. Both girls are from West Jordan.
Judges Marilyn King and Julie Whitzel very wisely gave blue ribbons to all participants. But the entries were all so good that they had trouble choosing a Best of Show.
They twice asked a reporter who happened to be loitering nearby to help them with a selection, but his favorite, the honeydew football helmet, didn't qualify, they said, because it was made from a fruit, not a vegetable as the rules specify.
The judges eventually gave Best of Show to an Indian village, with celery-and-lettuce-leaf teepee, cucumber canoes and a green pepper totem pole, sculpted by Jim Stanley, 12, West Jordan.
Kaarina Jarrinen, 11, Bennion, also received a special creativity award for her potato automobile with carrot-people passengers.