Janice Coroneos calls them her "fair fairies," her small dedicated staff of furniture movers, glass polishers, banner hangers, exhibit arrangers and entry registrars.
Without them — it's a gigantic group of about eight people — the 2,000 entries of the Home Arts exhibition wouldn't be on display at the Maryland State Fair.
And she wouldn't be able to "move the pickles."
"I have a fabulous crew," she said. She especially praised the three men who handle the heaviest items. "They're wonderful. They really are."
Since Coroneos took over as superintendent of the 4H and FFA-Home Arts building 10 years ago, she's made a point to change the displays every year.
"I don't want people to walk in the door and it to look the same exact way," the Lutherville resident said. "We move the pickles."
Traditions are treasured at the state fair and changing the displays that first year caused a stir. "Every year it was set up the exact same way," Coroneos said. One longtime home arts entrant walked in, Coroneos recalled, "and she screamed."
All Coroneos had done was turn the tables in a different direction. She had decided they'd be more welcoming. Even the screaming woman came to see it her way. "She later apologized," Coroneos said.
So every year, Coroneos moves where the fine art or the quilts or the pies are displayed. She even moved the flowers competition clear across the fairgrounds one year — and that's where they've stayed. They're now shown in the Farm and Garden Building, and "that's where they belong," she said.
Ironically, the pickles never move. Canning and preserving continues in the same spot every year. "I haven't moved that since I put it there," she said.
Photography, an ever-growing category, also continues in its own space near the entrance. "That doesn't mean it will stay there," she said, noting that it seems to work for now.
This year, visitors will notice something new — a children's tea party area set up near the entrance.
Twice a day Monday through Friday, at 1 and 3 p.m., children are invited to come for tea. There will be games and a craft. They'll get a proper hat to wear, and cookies and juice will be served. "A lot of kids don't drink tea," Coroneos says about the menu.
The tea recalls "Aunt Mary's Kitchen," a tea for children offered during the 1864 Baltimore Sanitary Fair. President Lincoln and first lady Mary Todd Lincoln attended the opening ceremonies. During the event, Lincoln met with organizers who would later serve as the first Maryland state fair board, according to Cononeos.
"I think it will be a lot of fun," she said. What's more, parents can leave their children for the hourlong tea party and visit the exhibits or demonstrations on the nearby chef's stage.
Coroneos, who has been the superintendent of the 4H&FFA-Home Arts building for 10 years, is the biggest fair fairy of them all. She spends nearly every waking hour for weeks before the fair, as well as during the fair, making sure the exhibitions are set up right and look their best throughout the fair.
"I just have a good time doing it," she said.
A lifetime of state fairs
A Lutherville resident, Coroneos has been part of the fair since she was born.
"I've been coming to the state fair since I was a baby," she said during a recent break. The state fair has been a consistent summertime event for her family since her grandmother worked in the cafeteria when she was little. When she was old enough for 4-H, she began living at the state fair with her sheep. She raised market lambs to show at the fair every year. Her four brothers and sisters were there with her. "We were all in 4H," she said.
A member of the Chestnut Ridge 4H Club, she's grateful to the organization for the training, the leadership skills she received — even for her husband, whom she met in 4H. "I got so much out of 4H," she said. said Coroneos, who has been a 4H leader with Chestnut Ridge for 42 years.
Coroneos, who retired three years ago from her job as a floral designer for Rutland Beard florist, is still a 4Her. A leader with Chestnut Ridge 4H for 42 years, she spends several weeks every July as a liaison for the indoor exhibits at the Baltimore County 4H Fair, also held at the state fairgrounds.
When the state fair asked her to serve as the new superintendent to handle the 4H and home arts exhibitions, Coroneos said, she had to think about it.
By the time she came home from vacation, she had decided to accept the job.
"She puts a ton of work into it," said Andy Cashman, the fair's assistant general manager and Coroneos' brother. He was the one that asked her to take on this job.
"Janice does such a good job there," he said. Visitors from other state fair boards have praised the way the exhibits are decorated and laid out. "They always love our building," Cashman said. "We're really proud of it."
Although he doesn't know how many of the 400,000 fairgoers visit the building — they're never counted — he knows there's always a crowd to see the quilts or decorated quilts or to get out of the late summer heat.
With Labor Day falling on the first of September, the 2014 edition of the state fair will be held the earliest dates possible.
"This is the earliest it can be," she said. And that has amped up the pressure to get the exhibition hall set up in time. "We had to start earlier," she said. "We've got to get it done quicker.
The hall is always empty when she arrives that first morning. But soon, forklifts are moving tables, display cases, bookcases and a multitude of materials into the hall. Coroneos rallies her troops — many of them also 4Hers — and they get to work pushing display cases together for the crafts, moving tables into the space for preserves and raising black metal grids to hang artwork and handiwork.
She organizes set up of everything for the Home Arts displays in one half of the building, as well as the display cases, tables and shelving for the 4H and Future Farmers of America displays.
Coroneos' handiwork has extended to the nearby state fair museum, which is open during the state fair. Coroneos helped set up the room filled with many items from ore than a century of state fairs, mostly collected by the fair's assistant general manager Andy Cashman or donated by fairgoers.
Trophies and ribbons, lots of photographs, clothing and souvenirs, farm queen tiaras and Best Baby Contest certificates are on display from as far back as the late 1800s. There are photos of the buildings erected during World War II — when the fair grounds were used as an Army depot.
By early August, banners were up, display tables were set up for both the home arts and the 4H exhibits. Coroneos and her crew had been hard at work every weekday (and one Saturday) 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"We've gotten a lot done in a week," she said.
It all had to be ready for the 2,000 entries expected to arrive Aug. 18 and 19. Judging was set for Aug. 20. And everything has to be put on display Aug. 21 with the fair opening Aug. 22.
Most fair entries are registered by the July 31 deadline — but walk-ins continue to be accepted before the judging begins. And that means a long line of people waiting to register their afghans, baby sweaters and oil paintings waiting on Aug. 18-19.
Assistant superintendent Carol Bodnar patiently enters the multitude of entries on those two days.
"Everything that comes in has to be displayed," she added.
Once there was an exception to that rule. A painting was once judged inappropriate for a family crowd, Coroneos recalled. It was kept close by, available for those who might be looking for it — including its creator. She calmly explained her reasoning to the painter, who accepted her decision and brought another painting the following year. It was displayed.
Not everything can stay on display. Mold can be a problem for those beautifully frosted cakes and champion tomatoes. They are quietly tossed every morning with the ribbons saved, Coroneos said.
Coroneos clearly has a lot of respect for the quilters who spend a year or more stitching together their fabric pieces. She remembers the West Virginia woman who brought a carload of preserves for more than 30 years. The year the woman didn't come, Coroneos worried about her. "We were concerned. She was always here," she said. Finally, they called her. The price of gas forced her to stop participating, Coroneos said.
"There is so much talent in this building, it's amazing," Coroneos said. "It's humbling to see what these people can do."
She calls the Home Arts dislays "the best kept secret on the fairgrounds." And she does her best to draw attention to them. She's even tried arches of balloons and red dancing figure that moves by air currents.
"There's lots of things going on in this building," she said.
Coroneos will be on hand throughout the long hours of the state fair — almost as long as when she had a lamb to take care of back in her 4H days.
"It's my building," she said. "I'll take care of it."