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Large crowd turns out to celebrate straw

Excellent weather, new activities, and straw art proved to be the perfect combination last Saturday for the best ever StrawFest in downtown Mt. Morris.

“It went great. We added the food trucks and antique mall this year and that worked very well,” said organizer Jeff Bold. “The crowd was much larger than it’s been in the past. The weather was absolutely stellar.”

StrawFest, with its straw bale races, music, blacksmith demonstrations, and mechanical bull riding, is sponsored by Encore! Mt. Morris and is the culmination of the two-week-long U.S. National Straw Sculpture Competition.

Ten straw sculptures went on display Aug. 9 on the downtown campus. The public was invited to look them over and vote for their favorites. 

The artists competing also voted for their favorite. The winners were announced at StrawFest.

“We had more competitors than ever before this year,” Bold said. “The quality continues to improve every year.”

First place went to Giraffe by Juan Zelaya, of Hoffman Estates; second was awarded to Rocking Horse by Fran Volz, of Rochelle, and third went to Eternal Peace by Bobbi Stockton, of DeKalb.

The winners were identical in both the People’s Choice and Artist’s Choice categories. 

Other sculptures were “Learning the Howl” by Steven Lentz, Monticello, Wisconsin; “The Early Bird” by Chris, Cecelia, Jeff, and Ellen Mann, Rockford; “Barbie Beauty Center” by Polished Hair & Nails and Hair on Main; “Who You Gonna Call” by Danica and Mark Rogers, Rochelle; “Easter Island Moai” by Jeremy Lampkin and Juan Martinez, Rochelle; “To My Mom, Breast Cancer Survivor” by Evelyn Potter, Rochelle; and “Whatch your Fingers” by Neal Vogt, Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

The U.S. National Straw Sculpture Competition was started by Volz in 2016 in Rochelle.

It moved to Mt. Morris the following year. 

A community build was added last year when volunteers turned out to design a straw bison. This year they built a giant straw saxophone to highlight the live music aspect of StrawFest.

Bold said the committee has decided to set StrawFest permanently for the fourth Saturday in August. The event will be held Aug. 22 next year with the competition from Aug. 7-23.