Chapter 5: The Knox County Fair

The Knox County Fair has reigned as a central Ohio classic and the highlight of the summer since its origin more than 160 years ago. Vernon Johnson’s “County Fair Series,” painted in 1951, captured the fun and homespun, yet somewhat exotic spirit of this annual week-long celebration, which its founders intended as the best examples of domestic and rural “comfort, convenience and elegance” and artistic and mechanical skills. “I remember being on the midway and seeing the same scene in one of his paintings,” John Beam, who was a year ahead of me in school, told me.

Knox County Fair Home Stretch, 1951 (c) The Artist's Eye, by Janis Johnson

Four of the paintings were displayed in approximately 1952 or 1953 in the Rudin department store’s window for a week before the fair opened, according to an undated Mount Vernon News clipping. “These watercolors are part of the 55 paintings Johnson has made during the past two years dealing with the historic and significant points of interest in and around Mount Vernon.”

“These pictures depict the excitement of this colorful event held in the Typical Small American City…from the Main Gate to the Finish Line,” Dad explained in his handout for a show at the Village Inn restaurant, likely in 1953 or 1954. He also wrote that he had painted “approximately sixty watercolors…of homes and historic buildings in and around Mount Vernon” by that time.

You’ll see the county fairs across the Midwest and the rest of America in the paintings of the 1950s Knox County Fair. Having recently seen the movie Secretariat, and the story of the Meadows Farm near our family’s later home in Richmond, Virginia, the repetition of family stories and horses emerge once again…

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