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Fair-ing well

WORTHINGTON -- Streaming purple ribbons are dangling from each of Robert Lynn's exhibits in the open class building at the Nobles County Fair in Worthington this weekend.

The retired farmer from rural Lismore has been collecting the purple beauties for the past several years for his intricate woodwork designs known as intarsia. This year his intarsia entry is a bald eagle, crafted from numerous shades of cedar.

"When we go somewhere, if we see a board we like, we pick it up," Lynn said of trips made to lumberyards with his wife Jeannette. "Cedar comes in many different colors."

Intarsia can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle -- it consists of numerous pieces of varying shapes and sizes. Each shape is cut with a scroll saw.

"You have to be very accurate when you saw -- you have to be able to split a pencil line," said Lynn.

He finds patterns through a magazine that caters to intarsia, and begins by making copies of the pattern and color coding it with the wood he wants to use.

"(And) you hope you saw them right so they fit," he added.

Lynn has dabbled in woodwork for about a dozen years, but it wasn't until he saw an exhibit of intarsia at the Spencer Fair in Spencer, Iowa, that he picked up the challenging hobby. That was five or six years ago.

"I couldn't even begin to count (the number of intarsia pieces made)," he said. Last year, Lynn entered two intarsia pieces in the open class division at the Nobles County Fair -- "African Adventure" and "New Shoes." The African Adventure piece was the most difficult and intricate of those he has made.

"The first thing I made was a simple dolphin, and I'm trying to get better, I guess," Lynn said.

As for the amount of time it takes to craft an intarsia project, Lynn said he has no idea. He's never kept track of the time he's spent working on one.

"You work on it for an hour and then you do something else," he said. "If things don't start going well, you just walk away."

Lynn's daughter, Diane Foerster of La Crescent, has also picked up the hobby of intarsia, taking several pieces to the county fair where she lives as well.

"She's very good," said Lynn, who refers to himself as still learning.

The two recently traveled to an intarsia workshop in Seymour, Tenn., where they met fellow intarsia crafters and even some designers.

"I realized how dumb I was," Lynn said with a laugh. "They're the best there is in the country."

Lynn said he was most impressed with the designers he met at the workshop, and said they draw out all of their designs freehand.

"The gal that did the drawing in the first place, she's the one that needs the credit," he added.

There are three levels of craftsmanship in intarsia -- beginner, intermediate and expert, and those involved in the hobby can order their patterns accordingly.

"It's a good hobby for somebody older. You can sit on your butt and do it," he said with a laugh.

Lynn does all of his work in a shop at his farm.

"I have a good shop," he said. "For Christmas and birthdays I always get a piece of equipment (from the kids)."

In return for all those gifts of tools he has received, Lynn said he's made a lot of items for his family.

"I never sell anything," he added.

In addition to his intarsia, Lynn brought a Hoosier cabinet to the fair this year that he made from a pattern.

"I bought a porcelain top and everything else inside of it I made," he said.

Lynn had wanted to build a Hoosier for several years, and in fact had the pattern since 1999.

"I never got around to it," he said. That was until this last year.

"We had one of them at the home too, when I was a kid," said Lynn. "This has got a few more things on it that that one did."

Lynn isn't sure yet what he's going to do with the Hoosier, admitting that he and his wife don't really have room for it.

Of course, he could always give it to one of his five kids, 16 grandkids or two great-grandkids.

Lynn's Hoosier cabinet and bald eagle intarsia piece are both displayed in the open class building at the Nobles County Fair through 5 p.m. Sunday.

Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at
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