Monday, May 16, 2016

Crop Art - Minnesota's quirky art made with seeds

By Kelly Newcomer, HandmadeMN team member. 

At the end of summer each year I visit the crop art exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, and I always think, "I want to do that!" So this year, I'm taking the plunge. Gluing hundreds of Minnesota crop seeds into intricate mosaics takes lots of time. I suppose it would be a nice project to work on over the winter, but I'm starting now. The 2016 Minnesota State Fair accepts entries beginning May 1st and the deadline is Friday August 12th.

What is crop art?

You take seeds (corn, wheat, millet, etc) of crops that can be grown or cultivated in Minnesota, and you glue them in such a way to create a kind of seed mosaic art form. Then you enter this art in the Minnesota State Fair. For how to do it, see links at bottom of this blog post)

Examples of great crop art

Here's a picture I took of Bloomington resident, Darlene Thorud's fabulous crop art from the 2013 MN State Fair - She used about 20 varieties of seeds including canola, wheat, safflower and three varieties of clover. Wow, where did she get all those? Advanced crop artists visit farm seed shops where seeds are usually sold by 50 pound bags. Artists need to make a special request to get one pound increments. Thorud has been exhibiting crop art since the first competition in 1965. She has been exhibiting and winning awards for her work for over 50 years.

Minnesota State Fair Crop Art by Darlene Thorud of Bloomington, MN 2013

Closeup of crop art by Darlene Thorud

I can't write a blog about crop art without mentioning Lilian Colton, known as the Queen of Crop Art, she passed away in 2007, but her work is immortalized in a book. Read more at

Another great crop artist who I happen to have a picture of her work is Cathy Camper, resident of Portland OR. Here is her 2013 portrait of Grace Jones. Cathy has an etsy shop SeedyArt with some postcard prints of her crop art.

Cathy Camper's Grace Jones portrait from the 2013 MN State Fair

It's uniquely Minnesotan

“As we understand it, we are the only state fair in the United States that has a competition in seed art,” said Ron Kelsey, (see source at end of blog) Director of the Minnesota State Fair's Seed-Art or Crop Art.

Crop Art and HandmadeMN - arts and crafts on etsy

As far as I could find, none of us on the Etsy team HandmadeMN are doing crop art (yet). There are a couple Minnesota crop seed related cute finds on HandmadeMN, and I want to showcase them here since this is a HandmadeMN blog.

Seed Packet Coin Purses

SewTini makes cute coin purses out of seed packets. What does she do with the seeds???

Art Prints of Minnesota Vegetables

Cindy Lindgren contemplates the beautiful radish. Radish seeds are allowed as a Minnesota crop seed. This would look awesome done in the medium of radish seeds.

My journey into crop art

Apparently the two-dimensional category is the one with the most entries every year. I want to try something a little different, so I will do my crop art on a hand-built bisque-fired ceramic robot figure left over from another project. I will cover the entire surface with seeds. I got out all of my bulk beans and seeds that I buy at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis. I have black beans, split peas, red lentils, navy beans, poppy seeds, mustard seeds, amaranth and hand-parched Minnesota wild rice.

After spending 20 minutes reading the rules on the pdf I determine that this will be a Class 5 entry, "Artistic Crop Art, irregular forms.
Other than square or rectangular etc., in shape, such as bird cut-outs, etc., and not necessarily a flat surface. Using seeds, stems, etc., on supporting background, not framed, either natural colors or dyed or painted or combinations, to achieve color needed."

I applied a small amount of paint under the flower and leaf areas.

Using toothpicks to attach amaranth inside the circles.

I used black mustard seed inside the eyes, and poppyseeds on the three grey squares.

I still need to cover this white ceramic robot form with more crop seeds.
I think I will use wild rice because it's grayish-black and evocative of Minnesota.

My work is not yet finished --it took me all weekend to get this far. Look for my finished work this summer at the MN State Fair August 25th to Labor Day, September 5th, 2016. Let me know if you have tried crop art, or if you think you will give it a try in the future.

1. Amazing website how to do crop art - visit and Basic rules (Not endorsed or approved by the Minnesota State Fair.)

2. Ron Kelsey quote

3. Minnesota State Fair 2016 Ag-Hort-Bee webpage

4. Minnesota State Fair Ag-Hort-Bee rule book pdf  - see page 30 for Crop Art details

5. Article: Is Bloomington's Darlene Thorud the New Queen of Crop Art? Star Tribune, July 7, 2010 by Mary Jane Smetanka

6. Liz Schreiber Making Crop Art Video Fox9 from 2015

Liz Schreiber glues down a grain of wild rice on her crop art piece for the Minnesota State Fair. See her technique in this video with our M.A. Rosko

7. Native Harvest - selling hand-harvested wild rice, birch bark winnowing trays, and more. Native Anishinaabe Indian owned. White Earth Nation. 


  1. This brought back memories of the Minnesota State Fair with my older brother in our youth. Since we were broke, once inside the fair grounds, our fun relied on meandering through the barns...the free sound stages and (of course) the Agriculture Horticulture Building and assorted "educational" buildings along Snelling Avenue! Robot advertisment in the Manual for Intergalactic Communication: Crop art, all you can drink milk and a bag of Tom Thumb donuts!

  2. Wow, Kelly, that was really interesting and what a perfectly apt way for you to approach it, making a crop art robot! It looks like you are off to a great start. I haven't been to the fair in a few years, but I think I might have to get over there this year to see the crop art!

  3. I love seeing the crop art each year - the level of detail in each piece is astounding!


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