A lot has changed in the world over the past 130 years, but small farms have remained a constant.
That truth comes home at a glance when looking at an 1883 poster that advertised the Erie County Fair by depicting the pastoral farm life of rural America.
The Hamburg fair announced Thursday that it would celebrate its 175th anniversary next summer by restoring and exhibiting the colorful 3½-by-5½-foot poster.
“All the elements that you see in the poster – the vegetables, showcasing the farmers with their fattened pigs and the prize cow – these are all things we do today. So, we’re looking into a mirror to the past, but it’s really that connection that, hey, we still do this stuff,” said Marty Biniasz, the fair’s director of special events.
That the Erie County Fair even has the poster was somewhat by chance.
The “billboard” was found about 25 years ago – it was at that point more than a century old – in a farmhouse attic on Kraus Road in Clarence. The farm was believed to have been owned by John Kraus, then president of the Erie County Agricultural Society, the fair’s sponsor, or by a family member.
The upcoming anniversary, and concern about the poster’s continuing deterioration, led to the decision to commission an art conservator to return it to good health and at the same time serve as a link to the Hamburg fair’s agricultural past.
“As we gear up for the 175th,” Biniasz said, “it reminds people that fairs have that power in a community to bring the past and present together, and keep those traditions moving forward.”
Posters such as this were expected to go on a wall for a couple of weeks or months at most and then be tossed out – instead of lasting 130 years. That presents preservation challenges, including having to work with wood pulp paper of relatively poor quality that wasn’t intended to last, as well as the poster’s sheer size, said Schell, a Lockport resident who holds a master’s degree in art conservation from SUNY Buffalo State.
Schell said age-related deterioration has resulted in paper loss, stains and tears. The conservation process will involve washing the paper to remove damaging acidity while safely retaining the original colors. The poster will be lined with Japanese tissue to provide structural support, and losses will be filled with cast paper pulp toned to match the surrounding paper.
The underlying paper tone will be lighter and brighter, causing the colored ink media to stand out in greater contrast as originally intended. The final result is expected to minimize the appearance of damage, while providing greater stability.
“I’m really looking forward to doing this. It’s a great piece of history for Western New York,” Schell said.
Volunteers have been busy cataloging photographs and other artifacts for a full exhibition at next year’s fair, which will present a timeline along with the poster’s public unveiling. A documentary for local public television and a pictorial book also are in the works.
Fair items from the 1970s and earlier – from programs and family photos to prize-winning ribbons – are sought by officials to make copies for the society’s archives and will be returned. To share items, call 649-3900, Ext. 6409.