Kathy Ham’s haughty rooster is the emblem of the 151st Fair

Artist Kathy Ham displays her Fair poster with pride. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Kathy Ham admits she is a little shy, but the rooster adorning her prize-winning Fair poster is anything but. The haughty fowl gazes out with a stern stare, his brilliant puffed-up feathers aglow, his bright red comb as regal as a crown. This is not a bird one would want to mess with.

“I always think of the prize-winning fowl as having a bit of an attitude; they always seem pleased with themselves,” Ms. Ham said in a recent telephone conversation. “I thought it would be fun to capture that.”

And capture it she did. Although she was doubtful that her image would be chosen, she picked up her phone in early spring to hear the Ag Society judges calling out, “Congratulations.”

“It was really cool, it was something I’ll never forget,” she recalled. “I was on Cloud Nine! I was thrilled!”

Fair manager Eleanor Neubert said the judges felt the simplicity and bright colors would appeal to all ages. “We thought that rooster was standing right up, and ‘Display with Pride,’ this year’s Fair theme, came to mind,” she said.

A lawyer with Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan & Hackney, Ms. Ham lives in Edgartown with her daughter, Hailey. Although law is her livelihood, Ms. Ham has always enjoyed doing artwork, often with unexpected success. Moving to the Vineyard in 1978, after graduating from college, she worked at the Dock Street Coffee Shop in Edgartown.

“I drew a cartoon and taped it to the wall,” she laughed. “Now they use it on their tee-shirts.”

She created logos for several businesses, published her cartoons in a calendar produced with Dan Waters, sold hand-painted Christmas cards, and was graphics director for Wood Chips. While doing ad sales and design at the Vineyard Gazette, Ms. Ham’s cartoon rendering of tired vacationers lined up at the ferry (with Joe White’s “The Vineyard Gazette, Don’t Leave for Home Without It” caption) won a first prize from the New England Press Association.

Ms. Ham left the Island to attend law school, then began working at Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan and Hackney and later raised a daughter. She had little time for art. But she missed it. She does not consider herself an artist, though sometimes wishes she were one. She had no formal training, and there are no roosters in her backyard. But when she saw this year’s Fair Poster Contest announced she had a burst of inspiration and determination.

“I’ll just do something,” she thought. “I’ll give it a shot: what do I have to lose?”

She took out her daughter’s acrylic paints and got to work.

Although she was inspired by other artists, she did not paint from a photo nor from watching a live bird. Her only contact with a rooster was years ago. The bird attacked her as she emerged from her door with her coat flapping, carrying Hailey, then an infant.

“I was mistaken for the competition,” she laughed, but at the time it was no fun.

Before the April 1 deadline, Ms. Ham called Ms. Neubert to find out where to deliver her design. She asked how many entries had come in and learned there were quite a few. Discouraged, she dropped her poster at the Ag Hall and forgot about it. Until that exciting call telling her she had won.

“It’s always been a dream to do a Fair Poster,” she said.

She had entered a design decades ago, and when it was not picked she decided it wasn’t something she could do. Now she knows differently. Like so many Islanders, Ms. Ham and her daughter are avid Fairgoers.

“I like the tradition of it,” she said. “It’s our heritage. Agriculture is so much a part of the Island.”

Not surprisingly, her favorite activity is visiting the livestock barn.

“The farmers are the people that make the Fair come together,” she said.

Ms. Ham loves the Fair and spent the stipend she received on Agricultural Society Life Memberships for herself and Hailey. She said she hopes the poster is a hit with Fairgoers, so sales will be brisk and the society will make money from it.

And what will it be like to see her artwork on posters and tee-shirts all over the Fairgrounds?

“I’ll feel like a little kid,” Ms. Ham laughed. “It’s being part of the Fair that makes me really happy.”