Gary Turnquist plans to portray – in basil and timothy — the iconic scene from “The Shining” of a battered Jack Nicholson bursting through the door and yelling “There’s Johnny” for this year’s cultural arts entry at the Minnesota State Fair.
Then Turnquist realized his great-granddaughter would be there.
“Nicholson’s is a little on the scary side,” said Turnquist, 75, who lives in Lindstrom. So he came up with an alternative plan: The Passion of the Christ, a close-up cut of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. A less intimidating subject, and Turnquist added that he found a message of racial unity in his own mosaic of seeds.
It is not known whether the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who passed through the Agriculture/Horticulture Building during the 12-day fair to enjoy this year’s batch of seed art caught what Turnquist saw as a representation of human diversity . Artistic intent can be elusive in the commercial art market, let alone agricultural genres.
“There are five [varieties of] seeds there,” Turnquist said. “They’re all naturally colored and represent [diversity] of the human kind.”
But it would be a mistake to sum up the seed art competition as simply sticking pumpkin seeds on paper plates. Lillian Colton, godmother of crops, has been conjuring faces from Abe Lincoln to the artist Baba Moses in poppy seeds and canola for decades with precision and beauty. Others channeled political opinions through puns or Internet memes.
“My piece is a three-dimensional Noah’s ark with all kinds of pairs of animals,” said Theresa Anderson of St. Paul, who runs the website cropart.com and competes in the advanced class. “Where the name of the ship is going to be, it says ‘GOP Climate Plan.'”
This year’s Best of Show award went to Linda Paulsen of Hackensack, who produced a portrait of television pioneer Betty White. Cream of Wheat forms White’s pearly teeth.
“She’s incredibly beautiful, but with this edge,” said Sharon Long of Minneapolis, who stood admiringly next to the ribbon winners on the fair’s opening day. “I like this ending.”
“She likes animals,” added Peggy Schulte. “She [White] was a great supporter of humane societies.”
The fair offers two dozen categories, from a wearable cut to an out-of-state presentation. Turnquist’s work remains based on Colton’s model. From his in a makeshift studio in his Lindstrom garage, he keeps Ziploc bags of seeds collected mostly by a farmer friend.
“It’s actually a white clover,” he said. “It is yellow in color. But what I love about it is that it’s so subtle. It’s just like sand.”
Last year, Turnquist won a blue ribbon in the senior category for “East Side Gang,” complete with photographic recreations of his classmates who grew up in St. Paul. Now retired, Turnquist hangs original watercolors and oils in his garage. It is also maintained a map of the world with pins marking his travels.
“These are all the places my wife and I visited,” Turnquist said. “We’ve been on 22 cruises.”
The man, who spent almost a quarter of his life as a machinist at Honeywell, says he walked through grand museums: the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Louvre in Paris. But he finds inspiration closer to home.
“I like the artists they have on Channel 2,” Turnqvist said. “Gary Jenkins is one of them. He does a lot of floral stuff.”
This lifelong love of art would surprise an early educator. At Cleveland High School in St. Paul, an art teacher once asked students to prepare a drawing. Turnquist, who fancied himself a creative, brought his art to the table first. But the teacher rolled the grate up and stuck it back into the boy’s stomach.
“I was crushed,” Turnquist said. “Nowadays he would be in jail right now.”
But he wonders if the teacher’s cruelty indirectly inspired him. Now his art gives him freedom from the ordinary. It has illustrations of the Northern Lights inspired by a trip to the dentist’s office. He made a moon with wild rice.
At the fair Saturday, asked to review her great-grandfather’s art, 5-year-old Kaya of San Diego gave a brief review: “I loved it.
Her mother, Allie, insisted that the family’s artistic talent centered mostly on Gary. But Kaya showed her fine art – a sketch of a bunny covered in corn kernels.
Turnqvist seems to have planted a seed. His granddaughter slipped the seed back into the Ziploc. The family started for the big yellow slide.