Body painting at the fair

My informant is a regular attendant of the Oregon Country Fair. The Oregon Country Fair is an annual non-profit craft fair held in Eugine Oregon held on the second weekend of July. In its inception it was known as the Oregon Renaissance Faire,  however in 1977 it changed its name to better reflect what it represented. At the start of every day there is a booth of painters near the entrance of the fair who offer to pain the chests and faces of anyone who desires to have their body painted. While the face paints are just for fun, the body or chest painting serves a much more important purpose to regular attendants of the fair. According to my informant, serious female fairgoers are “almost expected to paint their chest.” This is not a mandatory thing for women who attend the fair to do, but it is a culturally accepted and encouraged action” and that “when you see a women walking around the figure 8 (the fairground) without a shirt and a painted chest you know that they are a part of the community.” The significance of the body paint, however, is much deeper than it may seem at first glance. It is much more than a simple declaration of your Oregon Country Fair experience. Rather, it is actually meant to be a metaphor for fertility. When I asked my informant on the meaning behind the painting he revealed that “while it doesn’t mean much to me, to the people who do the paintings, this ritual is a celebration of fertility. [The painters] sometimes get very particular about this and usually will not paint men or young girl’s bodies because, well they cannot [birth a child].” Because of this, the paintings are almost always some type of flower placed in a shape that “look a lot like ovaries.”

This ritual is interesting because it is both not mandatory and seemingly out of place in a summer modern American fair. Fertility rituals often are performed in the spring during religious events, but the Oregon Country Fair is a community run fair taking place in the middle of summer. I believe that this implies that this tradition was not inherent to the fair but rather was brought to it. This notion is reinforced by the fact that the body painting is a part of, but not a central event of the fair. Usually if there was a sort of fertility ritual at a community gathering, it would be integral to the experience, but at the Oregon Country Fair it seems to be a well respected afterthought. Furthermore, at least from what I gathered from my informant, the Oregon Country Fair is in no way advertised of or talked about as a fertility festival.  I think that this shows that at the Oregon Country Fair, people are free to bring and repeat traditions from other cultures even if they do not necessarily have anything to do with the fair itself. If I were to go to the fair, I would assume that this painting is just one example of many such rituals performed at, but not integral to, the Oregon Country Fair.