The Big Fresno Fair is about a week away, but Judy Hartman was one of the first people in the Home Arts Building on Sept. 22.
The six-time champion of the table setting competition arrived early Friday to begin primping and glue-gunning her newest design -- a table set for four and themed to the Fourth of July.
The red, white and blue design features an Uncle Sam hat centerpiece, and sparkling party favors that look like fireworks for each “guest.” The name cards list Hartman, her husband and two of her close friends.
Table setting has been a part of the fair for at least the last 20 years, and is one of the most popular exhibits around, according to Home Arts Building Supervisor Kathy Currin. The category accepts just 10 competitors, who begin applying for spots as soon as the exhibitions list is released in March or April. Fair attendees flock to the building to see the tables, alongside decorated doors, Christmas trees and quilts.
As a child, Hartman would make a beeline to the Home Arts Building with her mother. She told herself she would eventually compete in the table setting category, and began doing so six years ago. She also entered the door decorating competition this year, and appreciates all the other Home Arts competitions at the fair.
“I enjoy the Home Arts Building and everything they have to offer,” Hartman said. “The handiwork, the quilts, all of the beautiful things these ladies have done over the course of a year.”
Hartman needs about three months to design a table and craft the handmade decor. Her husband made her a table that’s the size of the competition tables to practice on.
To come up with her designs, she looks at the pieces she already owns and determines how she’d like to use them. She decorates for every major holiday at home, including setting up a tree for Halloween, for harvest time and then for Christmas.
The judging is based on a set of criteria that includes originality and commitment to theme, as well as table setting etiquette. Water and wine glasses are placed in exact positions and name placquards and menus are a must. One advantage of setting up early, Hartman said, is that she can come back the next day to tweak her design if she feels she missed something.
Hartman sets the table for dinner every night, and if she hosts a party, her settings are about as elaborate as the ones she designs for the fair.
“But I have a bigger table to work with at home,” she said.
Setting the table is something of a lost art, Hartman said, as family members come and go at different times in the day. She encourages people to bring it back by collecting decor, and by dining off their good china as often as possible.
“Set a beautiful table every night,” Hartman said. “Dinner tastes so much better.”