Bowled Over: County Fair Is Flush With Toilet Art

Think you can do better? You'd better start planning now for next year's toilet decorating contest.
Think you can do better? You'd better start planning now for next year's toilet decorating contest. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 19, 2006

In a quiet little corner of the loud and gaudy 58th annual Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg, you will find the toilet decorating contest.

Start at the freak animals booth -- with the midget cow and the two-headed raccoon -- and walk up the midway past the airbrush tattoo tent, the Uncle Al kiddie ride, the Break 2 Plates game, the garment bazaar with the "I'm White Trash With Money" T-shirt, the mead-hall-size jumbo grilled turkey legs, the 550-pound wheel of cheddar, the aromatic animal barns, the Republican and Democratic tents with the fried Oreo stand in between, and you will discover a display of festooned porcelain thrones.

Forget the 4-H prize apple pie, the best-in-show goat, the amateur paintings and photographs. The decorated toilets -- just outside the Arts, Crafts & Photography pavilion -- are monuments to resourcefulness.

Anyone can make lemonade from life's lemons. It takes a special kind of person to turn toilets into treasures. Like Karen Nelson, 36, and her three daughters -- Emily, 11; Maggie, 10; and Caroline, 8 -- from Germantown. Their entry, "Rubber Duckies," was inspired by a "Sesame Street" song. Yellow rubber ducks are using an old toilet as their swimming pool.

"This was our first toilet entry," says Nelson. Her daughters saw the contest submissions last year and began planning this year's effort. "All the kids who go to the fair get so excited about the toilets," Nelson says.

Ideas that were flushed: a Spider-Man theme, a NASCAR version with cars racing around the seat and a barnyard scenario. "The girls wanted the toilet to make noise," Nelson says, "but I drew the line there."

Among this year's entries, the objets d'art include the "Toilet Bowl," a paean to college football bowl games; "Dairy News," with a Holstein cow puppet reading a moos-paper; "Old Glory," a patriotic entry with a flag on the tank; and "Hill's Horses," featuring a horseshoe on the back and toy horses on the seat.

This year's winner of the grand prize -- $25 and a purple ribbon -- is the "Camp Stinkalot Scouthouse," conceived and constructed by a couple of teenagers, David McCredy and John Bell, who belong to Boy Scout Troop 220 in Wheaton. McCredy says they bought their supplies from Home Depot, Michaels craft store and a dollar shop. They painted the toilet brown and built an outhouse around it, complete with a plastic vine and fake snake. "It took us about a half-hour or an hour," he says.

When McCredy heard that his entry had captured top honors, he called Bell and told him the news.

He adds, "I didn't do much celebrating."

This is the third year of the contest, says volunteer Lisa Hamner. Her husband, Bill, won first prize last year with a piscatorial entry labeled "Fishin' Hole."

The rules are simple: The contest is open to all Montgomery County residents. All toilets have to be "cleaned and sanitized." The entry fee is $5. The toilets have to be of a certain size, weatherproof and decorated in a way that fair officials do not find "objectionable."

After the fair ends tonight, some of the toilets will be taken home by the artists and some will be kept by fair officials for next year's contest. The Nelsons haven't decided whether they will hold on to theirs for next year's competition or find a new one to adorn.

They have settled on a motif: Batman. In the coming months, they will look for the perfect cape and a smoke machine. They want to be the best toilet decorators in the whole county.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company