Jennifer Brooks
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For years, he was one of the biggest, plaidest things at the Minnesota State Fair.

Now Paul Bunyan, all 17 feet of him, can be yours.

Or mine.

Depending on which one of us casts the winning bid at the Bunyan auction.

For years, a huge, handmade Paul Bunyan loomed affably over fairgoers at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Eco Exhibit.

His shirt was a vast patchwork of thrift shop flannel. His buttons were cross-sections of logs. The stocking cap on his huge Easter Island head was knitted from strips of old T-shirts. If you push a button, he shares recycling tips in English, Spanish and Hmong.

“I’ll be a little sad to see him go,” said Scott Andre, Bunyan creator and exhibit designer for the MPCA, who used his own face as a template when he carved a 50-pound block of Styrofoam into the face of Minnesota’s largest legendary lumberjack.

That face has been the face of the Eco Experience’s clothing and textile recycling exhibit since 2016.

That’s a good run for someone constructed primarily of cardboard, flannel and discarded wigs.

But to Andre’s experienced eye, the recycled lumberjack was starting to show his age. The bright reds of his costume were fading. The padding on his backside was starting to lose definition.

The state agency that brought you 2015’s Bagnado — a whirling floor-to-ceiling vortex of unrecycled plastic bags — and rolled the world’s largest wad of paper onto the fairgrounds in 2014, was ready for a new challenge.

It was time for Paul Bunyan to move on. And there are plenty of Minnesotans who would be glad to let him move in.

While teams reassembled Paul for one last State Fair appearance, the Minnesota Department of Administration listed the big fella on its online auction site, right between the used state office furniture and the impounded cars.

Bidding opened at $50.

More bids came in as people spotted a bargain. Bent at the waist to fit under the ceiling beams at the Eco Experience, Auction Bunyan is only a foot shorter than Bemidji’s iconic Paul and Babe statues, without the four-hour commute. If your ceilings allow, you could stand him up straight and he’d be more than 20 feet tall.

“It would be nice if he could finally stop stooping,” Andre said, smiling up at the bent lumberjack.

On the other side of the exhibit hall, crews are getting ready for this year’s splashy eco exhibit — a 9-ton block of ice. The 18,000 pounds of ice will slowly melt away through the run of the fair — a stark reminder that climate change is shrinking the lake ice season in Minnesota.

Paul Bunyan, with his thrift store wardrobe, has a lesson of his own. Minnesotans throw away 12 grocery carts full of clothing and textiles every minute — 135,900 tons of material that could have been recycled or donated to thrift stores or stitched into giant lumberjack jackets.

As of Tuesday, the high Bunyan bid stood at $121, thoroughly pricing some of us out of the market unless management signs off on a lumberjack as a legitimate business expense.

The Great Minnesota Get-Together starts Thursday. You can get together with Paul Bunyan and cool off next to the giant melting block of ice at the Eco Experience on Randall Avenue (turn left at the crop art and giant vegetables, follow Cosgrove Street past the Newspaper Museum and the Great Big Wheel. Can’t miss it.)

You can keep tabs on the Paul Bunyan bidding war, or place a bid of your own on Lot #28182 here: www.minnbid.org/Mobile/AuctionLot/28639. Bidding is open until Aug. 30 at 10 a.m.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the amount of clothing and textiles Minnesota collectively throws away.