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Girls Gone Wild at the Goshen Agricultural Fair

Rural Intelligence Road TripsCelia McGee, a journalist who has been spending weekends in Goshen, CT, for many years, reports from the fairgrounds:

The Goshen Fair, held every Labor Day Weekend at the Goshen Agricultural Society fairgrounds in Litchfield County, is famous for its view of the Litchfield Hills, its dairy barn, its democratic approach to fried dough and locavore food concessions, and, in the more recent of its 98 years, the design of its annual poster. Displaying old-fashioned images of farm animals or implements taken from vintage prints or photographs crowned by a band of color with the fair’s logo, dates and location, it’s the work of Goshen resident Virginia “Ginny” Anstett. A director of the Agricultural Society, founder of Poetry Book Design studio,  and a graphic-design graduate of the Yale University School of Art, she has seen her designs migrate to the fair-book cover, T-shirts, print advertisements and admissions coupons. This year’s has engendered double- and triple-takes. Surely, that’s a guy with long hair holding one end of the steel blade in the illustration from a crosscut-sawing contest? Or, is it a woman?

Her hair is shorter now, but that’s definitely Shannon Strong in the picture. Known to fairgoers as the championship lumberjill from Warren, CT, she’s been competing at Goshen and nationwide since she was 15; in 2003 she attended the world championships in New Zealand as a member of the U.S. women’s team. Ginny Anstett said she wasn’t looking for the fair’s first female icon—she and Ann Booth, the fair secretary, wanted 2010 to feature wood-cutting.  “My uncle Kenny [Anstett] was in charge of that department for 30 years,” she said, “and I used to hang out with my cousins at the competitions. The Strongs were always there.”

Shannon Strong has a business card, “Still Goin’Strong/Professional Lumberjill and Personal Trainer.” She started her timber training with her father, Cal Strong, a former Mr. Connecticut, body-builder and award-winning woodsman when she was 11, but , she said, “I started watching from my baby carriage.” Seated in the living room of the trophy-filled house she and her husband and competition partner, Harvey Gereg, spent seven years building on the site of an old stone quarry, her dad, she added,  “will be at Goshen—he’s 78 and still does the springboard chop.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsHer opinion of the fair-program cover is favorable—“wait, there’s a poster?! T-shirts?!”— because “it shows good technique,” she said. “The chips are flying off, and Harvey and I have good form.” The man in the middle is Mark Bovat, a judge. Shannon and Harvey competed together first, got married later. “I figured if we could Jack and Jill together, we could be together,” she said. She also toured with Timber Tina’s World Champion Lumberjills out of Fryeburg, Maine. She’s won at ax-throwing, log rolling, chopping, and the crosscut. She orders her competition axes from Tuatahi, in New Zealand, and has her Canadian crosscut saws filed by Jim Taylor in Redding, California. “I built a special box to ship them in,” she said.

She’s had a busy summer, returning to the Woodsmen’s Field Days world championships in Boonville, N.Y. now that her house and its hand-built practice range are finished, completing her personal trainer certification requirements, and preparing for her second year coaching the University of Connecticut’s three-year-old co-ed Timber Team. The hand-eye coordination and athletic skills required, she said, as well as the lumber sport’s frontier-style history, appeal to a wide array of students, including the growing number of forestry, natural resources and environmental studies majors. She’s started taking team members with her on demonstrations at high schools around the state that double as recruiting sessions. 

Ginny Anstett—who studied at Yale under the famous modernist Paul Rand—is also keeping another eye on the next generation. She is a member of the Goshen Agricultural Society’s scholarship committee, and is instrumental in helping award the $1,500 prize. She hopes the future will encourage poets, too, and her website offers a Poet of the Month page. Next up is Honor Moore.

Shannon Strong will be front and center at the woodcutting contest dedicated this year to the memory of announcer and contestant Pete Chepulis, who died in the Kleen Energy power plant explosion in Middletown in February.  Her Goshen Fair food of choice? “The chef’s salad from Ray and Lorry LeMaire’s Twin Pines Farm booth,” she said. “People laugh when I tell them that, but it’s got the homemade cheese, and they make it for me right there.”—C.M.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 08/31/10 at 06:09 AM • Permalink