Exhibit displays are a main feature of any state fair, county fair, or local fair. Different fairs have their own rules and regulations, but in most cases, anybody is eligible to enter exhibits in the fair. Here is some general information based on my ten years of entering exhibits in fairs.
Some fairs include exhibits geared towards farmers, artists, and professional photographers, but in this article I will focus on garden produce, cut flowers, crafts, art, and photography that can be exhibited by amateurs. Sewing, needlework, and baking can also be exhibited in most state fairs, county fairs, and local fairs.
Exhibits entered range from garden vegetables and flowers to homemade crafts, collections, photography, artwork, and sewing, among other things. Each class of exhibits is broken down by category. Depending upon the size of the fair, the number of categories can vary from ten to over 150. Exhibits are limited to one exhibit per category per person.
There are two systems of judging employed by the fairs. Most adult exhibits and some junior exhibits are judged in competition with each other. One blue, one red, and one white ribbon are awarded to the best three exhibits of the category regardless of the number of total exhibits in that category.
The second system of judging is called the Danish System. In the Danish System, the exhibits are judged based on their own merits. This system is usually only used for youth and junior exhibits.
Each fair publishes a fair book, which is often made available in public places or mailed upon request. The fair book contains listings of exhibit categories and in most cases an entry blank, which is removed, filled out, and mailed back to the fair by a specific deadline. The fair book states the rules, entry fees, and prize rewards for that fair. Some fairs charge a per exhibit fee (around 25 cents) while others have a blanket fee, usually a few dollars maximum. Fairs generally do not charge an entry fee for an item that will be auctioned off.
The fair has a set time for delivery of exhibits, usually on the evening of the day before the fair. Different fairs have different systems of entry. Most fairs use a system of entry tags, which are either mailed or picked up on the day of entry. The exhibits are brought over to the specific place of display by either the exhibitor or the staff and set up on tables or benches, which are fenced off to the public during the duration of the fair.
The judging usually happens just before the fair opens. In most cases, the judging is closed to the public. After judging is complete, the exhibits and fair open to the public.
Pick up time for exhibits entered is usually on a Saturday or Sunday as the fair is closing down. It is a good idea to pick up your exhibits as early as allowed; minimizing the chance of somebody else taking your exhibit thinking it is theirs. Some fairs allow you to collect prize money either during the fair or during pick-up time. Most fairs, however, send a check in the mail. Prize money is mostly pocket change. If you are lucky, it will pay your admission fee. Note that in most small fairs, vegetables and flowers entered become the property of the fair to be auctioned. This is common with most local grange fairs and usually is stated clearly in the fair book.
Increase your chances of winning with crafts that are more difficult, well-built, original, and neat. Enter flowers that have just fully open, but are still firm. Read up on basic photography to key in to how to take winning photos. What earned me ribbons was my enthusiasm and dedication to putting into reality my creative exhibit ideas.