Gary Turnquist planned to depict — in basil and timothy — the iconic scene from "The Shining" of a frayed Jack Nicholson bursting through a door and hollering "Here's Johnny" for this year's crop art entry at the Minnesota State Fair.
Then Turnquist found out his great-granddaughter would be there.
"That one of Nicholson is a little on the scary side," said Turnquist, 75, who lives in Lindstrom. So he hatched an alternative plan: The Passion of the Christ, a close-up cropping of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. Less frightening subject, and Turnquist added that he discovered a message of racial unity within his own seed mosaic.
Whether the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who passed through the Agriculture/Horticulture building during the 12-day fair to take in this year's batch of seed art caught what Turnquist saw as a representation of human diversity is unknown. Artistic intention can be elusive in the commercial art market, let alone the agricultural genres.
"There's five [varieties of] seeds there," Turnquist said. "They're all their natural color and they represent the [diversity] of human kind."
But it would be a mistake to sum up the seed art contest as staid, a simple gluing of pumpkin seeds to paper plates. Lillian Colton, a godmother of the crop arts, for decades conjured in poppy seed and canola faces from Abe Lincoln to artist Grandma Moses with precision and beauty. Others channeled political opinions via seed-laced puns or Internet memes.
"My piece is a three-dimensional Noah's Ark, with all kinds of pairs of animals," said Teresa Anderson, of St. Paul, who runs the cropart.com website and competes in the advanced class. "Where the name of the ship would be it says, 'GOP Climate Plan.'"
This year's Best of Show went to Linda Paulsen of Hackensack, who crafted a portrait of television groundbreaker Betty White. Cream of Wheat form White's pearly teeth.
"She's wonderfully nice, but with that edge," said Sharon Long, of Minneapolis, who stood admiringly near the ribbon winners on the fair's opening day. "I like that edge."
"She likes animals," added Peggy Schulte. "She [White] was a big supporter of humane societies."
The fair offers two dozen categories, from wearable crop art to out-of-state submissions. Turnquist's oeuvre stays grounded in the Colton model. From his makeshift studio in his Lindstrom garage, he keeps Ziploc bags of seeds, collected mostly from a farmer friend.
"This is actually white clover," he said. "It's yellow in color. But what I like about it is it's so fine. It's just like sand."
Last year, Turnquist won a blue ribbon in the senior category for "East Side Gang," replete with photographic re-creations of his classmates growing up in St. Paul. Now retired, Turnquist hangs original water colors and oils inside his garage. He also keeps up a map of the world with pushpins denoting his travels.
"These are all the places my wife and I have visited," Turnquist said. "We've been on 22 cruises."
The man who worked nearly a quarter-century of his life as a machinist at Honeywell says he's strolled through lofty museums: the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Paris's Louvre. But he draws inspiration closer to home.
"I like the artists they have on Channel 2," said Turnquist. "Gary Jenkins is one of them. He does a lot of floral stuff."
This lifelong love of art would surprise an early educator. At Cleveland Junior High in St. Paul, an art teacher once asked students to prepare a drawing. Turnquist — who fancied himself creative — brought his art up to the table first. But the teacher rolled the grid paper up and jammed it back into the boy's stomach.
"I was crushed," Turnquist said. "In this day and age, he'd be in jail right now."
But he wonders if the teacher's cruelty indirectly inspired him. Now his art delivers him freedom from the ordinary. He has northern lights illustrations inspired by a trip to the dentist's office. He's crafted a loon with wild rice.
At the fair on Saturday, asked to to review her great-grandfather's crop art, 5-year-old Kaia, of San Diego, gave a succinct review: "Loved it."
Her mom, Ali, insisted the family's artistic talent centered mostly with Gary. But Kaia showed off her crop art — a sketch of a bunny plastered with corn kernels.
It appears Turnquist has planted a seed. His granddaughter tucked the seed art back into a Ziploc. The family was off to the big yellow slide.