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Fairgoers Are Coming to Collect

An exhibit at the Ventura County Fair displays collections ranging from cake babies to purple Barracudas.

August 05, 2003|Karin Grennan | Special to The Times

Most Ventura County Fair exhibits honor people for their handiwork -- the cakes they bake, the pictures they paint, even the zinnias and zucchini they grow.

But the Collections display is altogether different. Here the focus is on the passions of pack rats, people who collect everything from antenna balls to plastic babies used to decorate shower cakes.

For Oxnard resident Ann Wiley, cows are the thing, from porcelains to stuffed animals. "Cows represent serenity and gentleness to me," Wiley wrote in a display note explaining the bovine bounty she has amassed over three decades. "Friends often tell me, 'Ann, I saw a cow today and I thought of you.' Now that's a compliment!"

The number of Collections exhibitors at the fair has multiplied from three to 101 over the last eight years, said Supt. Bob Stultz, who is in charge of the exhibit.

This year's exhibit ranges from cacti to Cookie Monsters, peacocks to Pez dispensers. Beanie Babies and GI Joes seem to show up every year, but there are always a few firsts.

"No matter what we think of for categories, somebody comes up with something we would never have thought of," said Jeane Stultz, who helps her husband with the exhibit.

One woman's obsession is playing card jokers.

Another collector has 25 1970 and '71 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda models -- all painted Plum Crazy Purple.

"It's the first time I've ever had a collection of cell phones," said Bob Stultz, pointing to a display covering their evolution -- from the bulky flip phones of 1992 to the tiny ones of today.

Ventura resident Lynda Breedlove, 51, has been collecting plastic babies used on shower cakes since the first baby shower she was given 30 years ago. She has 117 figures, none longer than an inch and most that cost 60 cents or less.

"I love to see how they change," said Breedlove, who noted that features on the figures have become less detailed and colors less life-like over the years.

Glenda Jackson took a popular genre -- the 1950s and 1960s -- and put a personal spin on it for her collection, which won Best of Show. Each item is reminiscent of her childhood.

The 50-year-old Ventura resident searched numerous antique stores and eventually paid $100 for a 1958 metal Zorro lunch box just like the one she carried in first grade. Other items include a stuffed Felix the Cat, her childhood hero, and a tiny Reddi Kilowatt -- the electricity-promoting character who played a major role in her most terrifying nightmare.

"It's a connection to the past," said Jackson, an avid collector of items ranging from Victorian clothes to old Ventura newspapers. "It's a source of comfort."

For many of the exhibitors, their passion lies in the act of collecting rather than the object itself. Brian McKeown, a 13-year-old from Fillmore, started collecting Pez dispensers six years ago because he didn't know what to do with them after he ate the candy.

"I got so much Pez and the dispensers came with it so I started collecting them," explained Brian, who now has 55 dispensers ranging from a skull to Pebbles Flintstone.

Jerry Allstott of Ventura was at a Chicago convention of beer can collectors in 1979. He liked the idea of collecting cans but wasn't a beer drinker, so he settled on root beer. For 24 years, the retired graphic artist and his friends have searched market coolers across the country for different versions of the drink.

Allstott, 65, now has 140 cans and bottles, as well as bottle caps, root beer candies and a late 19th-century root beer jug he found in an antique store in Vermont. He displays them prominently on a shelf in his den. For the fair, he brought his favorites and typed up an extensive history of the drink. The display won a Directors' Trophy.

Surprisingly, though, Allstott has never been that crazy about root beer.

"I'm more of a Coke drinker," he said.

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