Fair poster winner mixes art and farming


Meet Spirit and Willow, the golden couple of the weekend. This slender, bright-eyed pair won’t be pursued by paparazzi or show up on late-night television. But suddenly they are seen everywhere, thanks to their creative owner, Joyce Maxner of West Tisbury.

Spirit and Willow are goats who, until now, lived in comfy obscurity in Joyce and Steve Maxner’s small farmyard, going about their daily round of grazing, milking, and dozing. Now they are stars, and although too shy for public appearances, their comely faces are gracing posters and tee shirts across the Fairgrounds and beyond. Ms. Maxner too is in an unaccustomed spotlight, greeting well-wishers and signing posters at the Fair.

Like her goats, Ms. Maxner is reserved and mostly a homebody, and is amazed at all the excitement. A novice artist, she began painting not long ago after taking classes with watercolorist David Wallis. Her portraits of family members and pets hang in the Maxners’ airy, comfortably furnished home. But entering a poster contest was another story!

“This Fair poster is mine, but it’s also a community effort,” Ms. Maxner said modestly. “I can’t say it’s totally mine. I had so much help, so many people inspiring and urging me on.”

She credited farmer Matthew Dix with spying the portrait of Spirit and Willow she painted for her daughter, Hannah, and insisting she enter it. Jill Walsh, friend and graphic artist, offered advice as did Don Groover at The Tisbury Printer.

Ms. Maxner received the call naming her the 2010 Fair poster contest winner on April 20, the day before her birthday. It was a great present and a total surprise!

The auspicious coming together of art, animals, and the rural lifestyle that is the spirit of the Ag Fair is nothing new for Joyce Maxner. When she and her two sisters were growing up on a New Jersey farm, their parents, committed to sustainable living, taught them thrifty country values. The family produced and put by much of their own food and everyone helped with the chores.

Yet the creative arts were woven through the three girls’ days in equal measure. Their mother signed them up for art, dance, piano, and voice lessons. The young sisters even sang together as a trio.

Music has remained a constant in Ms. Maxner’s life. She and Steve met playing in a bluegrass group at Springfield College; she teaches music to toddlers in the Music Together© program; and the couple host casual musical evenings with family and friends, Steve playing many instruments as Joyce sings.

Since 1992 when the Maxners moved to the Vineyard from Northampton with their five children, their home has become a thriving farm. Though modest in size the property boasts a multi-roomed goat barn, a tidy hen house, plenty of grazing and pecking space. Robust vegetable plants cram raised beds; berries grow behind them. Bright flowers bloom everywhere, from a huge perennial bed to planters and window boxes. Several strategically placed hammocks beckon. Ms. Maxner praises her husband for creating the sheds, fences, plantings — making her visions a reality.

Chickens and goats have been part of the family for only a few years and Ms. Maxner delights in them.

“It’s wonderful, I get my milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, chicken, and meat all out of my own backyard.”

“I feel like I’ve gone back to my childhood. It’s very meditative, going out with my goats and chickens,” says Ms. Maxner, sitting on the shady back veranda and surveying the yard, as Cooper, the family English Setter snoozes nearby. “It’s like a little piece of heaven.”