Lillian Colton died in March, at the age of 95, but her legacy remains in the State Fair crop art exhibit.
Like many artists, Lillian worked a day job and created her art without expecting it to support her. For 67 years, she worked as a beautician in Owatonna, in a home salon called the Cinderella Clip and Curl. She embroidered and painted and sewed. And she used seeds to create lifelike portraits and stunning pictures.
Crop art is created with seeds and plant matter, picked up and carefully placed, using glue-tipped toothpicks or tweezers. Portraits are a classic subject for crop artists (or seed artists, as they are also called.) Lillian Colton’s gallery includes nearly 50 portraits, and this year the State Fair exhibit includes a portrait of Lillian herself, created by David Steinlicht.
Lillian entered some of her fabric art—tablecloths and quilts—in State Fair competition. She began bringing her seed art in 1966, the year after the State Fair invited crop art entries. She won nine grand championships in eleven years. Retiring from competition in 1984, she became a demonstrator at the crop art exhibit, displaying her creations and showing how it was done. Her art was also featured in a 2004 exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A biography of Lillian Colton, Seed Queen: Crop Arts and the Amazing Lillian Colton, was published this year by the Minnesota Historical Society. Colleen Sheehy, education director at the Weisman Art Museum, wrote the biography.
Some of Lillian Colton’s more famous creations include portraits of Willie Nelson, Barbra Streisand and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many of her portraits are, once again, on exhibit in the horticulture building of the State Fair this year.
Though crop art might seem a remnant of a more rural Minnesota past, its popularity and practice continue with younger generations and newer Minnesotans. See photos of crop art from 2006 and 2007 State Fair exhibits.
A video was created for the MIA exhibition of Lillian’s work.