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Farmington artist marks 30th year of entering work in Dakota County Fair

Farmington artist Patty Smith took home a blue ribbon home from the Dakota County Fair for her oil painting. She also won Grand Champion for a drawing of three children. 1 / 2
Patty Smith won a Grand Champion ribbon for her drawing of three children. Smith has entered her artwork into the Dakota County Fair for 30 years.2 / 2

Farmington artist Patty Smith really didn't think the drawing she entered in the Dakota County Fair was her best work. Apparently, the judges beg to differ. It earned a Grand Champion purple ribbon.

Smith, who has been entering her artwork in the Dakota County Fair since 1984, has streams of ribbons she's won at past fairs hanging in her home. Every year, it seems she brings home a few more.

She comes by her talents, and her desire to compete at the county fair, honestly. Her uncle painted murals. Her father, Harry Smith, used to do outdoor crafts and yard ornaments — many of which he'd enter into the Dakota County Fair — and her mother, Genevieve Smith, enters her puzzles every year.

So when she was growing up, Patty picked up a pencil and some paper. One thing led to another.

"When I lived at home, we didn't have a VCR or video games. There was nothing like that to do, so I started to draw," Smith said.

This year, Smith entered two pieces of artwork. She's got a drawing of three children and she has an oil painting of a vibrant drive-in called Big Boy.

She really didn't think the picture of the children would receive the accolades it did. Her son, Tony Jerin, brought a picture of his boss' kids to her in November, and asked if she could do a "quick" drawing of them for his boss, for Christmas. She did it, of course, but she didn't feel like it was her best work, because she was already preoccupied by the oil painting she was forming in her mind.

"I can only do one thing at a time, because I look at something and it occupies my mind," she said. "If I get stuck on something I can't really get it out of my head."

And she really was putting this oil painting together in her head. She started coming up with the concept in November, one night after working at Tailgaters. She was behind the building, looking at the open land, and it hit her that that would be a good place for a drive-in. She's always thought it would be fun to have a restaurant of her own, and the more she stood outside, the more she started to picture a drive-in painting in her mind.

She spent much of November and December researching photos of old drive-ins. Then she started on other details — the types of cars that would be there, and so on. She started painting in January, and did it in small increments over the next several months.

Her original paintings tend to have things that are unique to her and her family. Three cars in her drive-in painting have her three sons and their wives in them. Her youngest son, Sam Jerin, got married not too long ago, so his car says "Just Married" on it. To the right, in the far background, is a water tower reminiscent of Farmington's water tower. Tucked away on the left is a small image of the Dakota County Fair, including the ferris wheel.

And there are some other fun elements to her painting. For instance, one night, she was working on it and watching television when a commercial for a Superman movie came on. Sure enough, Superman wound up in her painting. So did Batman and the Batmobile.

The drive-in is called Big Boy's, because that's what she calls her sons — Big Boy.

She brought her painting around to her toughest critics, too. Her mom and her sister, MaryKay Haas, are probably her worst — or best — critics, but she's got a handful of co-workers and son Ben Jerin who can be pretty critical of her work, too.

"They are my most brutal, honest critics. They love for me to bring it to their houses so they can rip it apart. And they do," Smith said. "Sometimes I have to sit and dwell on it for a day or two, but they're always right."

The drive-in oil painting earned a blue ribbon.

Smith doesn't usually try to enter her work at the Minnesota State Fair. She's tried in the past, but the state fair has a limit on how many entries it will accept, and she's not been successful. So instead, she shares her work with her friends, family and community.

Besides sharing her work at the county fair, Smith has done a handful of other special projects. She has done a drawing of the old Eureka Township town hall that hangs in the current town hall. She also painted the mural of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima at the former Farmington American Legion.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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