It's August and time for St. Anthony Park resident Teresa Anderson to go to seed again. It's something she does quite well, regularly winning awards for her efforts.

Crop art is Anderson's chosen pursuit, and her wry sense of humor and excellent fine motor skills (possibly honed by her professional background in dentistry) make her a formidable competitor in one of the more esoteric events at the Minnesota State Fair.

Like butter sculpture, crop art - that curious blend of precision technique, cartoon graphics and horticultural boosterism - is one of those distinctive State Fair attractions. Even devotees like Anderson are unsure if it's really an art form.

"It's very tedious," she admits. "Not much fun to do. ... Also, it's a hundred times harder to do it in seeds [than paint.]"

Anderson can't sell her work for any sum that would begin to offer appropriate compensation for the hours of labor involved, and she doesn't even have the satisfaction of knowing that her work will last for the ages. Without distracting layers of heavy, shiny shellac, her prize-winning creations can quickly succumb to crop blight.

Yet every year, months before the fair begins, Anderson and a small band of fellow enthusiasts begin visiting seed stores, assembling their stock, and planning the finicky process of transforming millet, lentils, wheat and other kernels into recognizable portraits of everyone from Abe Lincoln to Colonel Sanders. Anderson's first entry in the seedy sweepstakes came a decade ago.

"That first year I did a cute little bird," she says. That would be the last time anyone referred to her work as cute. Nowadays, the adjectives are more likely to be "ironic" or "cheeky." And those are from the people who agree with her.

Anderson has made her mark by bringing political commentary to the world of crop art, and she is not one to use a stiletto when a garden shovel will do the job.

In 2007, she portrayed then-Vice President Dick Cheney in tasteful neutral tones of barley, rice and millet with tendrils growing out of his head labeled "Corruption," "Torture" and "Repression." The work was titled "Vice - The Root of Evil."

The political message of her winning 2008 entry - exhibited during the Republican National Convention based that year in St. Paul - can be inferred from its caption: "Cleaning Up After the Elephants Is the Dirtiest Job in the Circus."

Unapologetic liberal

The reaction to her work is not always positive. She reports with high glee that one especially angry conservative blogger wrote, "Teresa Anderson sounds like a sad, angry person. I'd hate to have Christmas dinner with her."

For the record, Anderson wants it to be known that she is neither sad nor angry. A health consultant who enjoys her family and a variety of outside interests, she says, "I have plenty of more important and positive things in my life [than making painstaking portraits of Republicans in seeds]." But she's unapologetic about her politics. Always liberal.

Her 2012 crop art entry took dead aim at the marriage amendment, the ballot issue that would have outlawed gay marriage had it passed in November 2012. Anderson's "Wedding Cake" was constructed of fine white seeds painstakingly glued to inverted cake pans. Conventional bride and groom figurines are perched on top under a banner that reads "Defending Marriage Sanctity since Henry VIII," while around the sides of the cake, Anderson has inscribed in flowing seed script the names of a rogue's gallery of prominent abusers of their marital vows from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump.

The witty "Wedding Cake" was singled out for favorable mention last year on the online news site Huffington Post, and one of Anderson's entries in 2013 continued the theme. She celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage by the Minnesota Legislature with a slice of wedding cake rendered in rainbow-colored seeds. The caption reads "Let them eat cake."

This year, she followed up the previous two years' entries about marriage equality with a positive piece that is "less snarky than usual." It's based on a 1998 quote from Maya Angelou, who died earlier this year, including the line "all of us are caged birds, have been and will be again." It's also her most ambitious entry - a three-dimensional bird cage covered in seeds, hanging from a branch. It was "quite an engineering project," she says.


The inside scoop

She credits her family and friends with helping her think up the clever slogans that distinguish her entries. But that's the extent of their involvement in what they consider her somewhat eccentric interest.

"I have two adult children who have tried seed art - once - and say 'never again,' " she reports.

Asked what it takes to become a master crop artist, Anderson is characteristically modest: "You need fine-motor skills, but basically it takes patience."

Given the small number of crop artists and the large number of sub-categories in which they compete, she says, "Unless you do something obscene, you'll get your piece [displayed]. It's a ... humorous way to put your thoughts out there to half-a-million fairgoers."

Editor's note: This story was published first in the Park Bugle. Used with permission. Additional reporting by the Minnesota Women's Press.

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to editor@womenspress.com.