Northern Gila County Fair Brings Out Best From Rim Country Residents

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She loves capturing the moment with a click of her camera and he loves collecting antique automobile air fresheners. This weekend, both were rewarded for their unique talents as best in show winners at the 54th Annual Northern Gila County Fair.

Chuck Burns of Payson displayed a one-of-a-kind collection of glass air fresheners from the turn of the century, winning best of show in the collections department.

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Gerri Levine proudly holds her winning entry that received "best of show" honors in the amateur photography category.

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For young children like Carli, Malissa and Coby La Spisa, the photo exhibit is more like a fun maze with interesting pictures to look at as they wander through the Tonto Apache Exhibit Hall, Saturday, Sept. 6 during the Northern Gila County Fair.

The air fresheners, which look like vases with no stands, were produced from the 1800s to the late 1930s for Model A and T cars.

"Cars back then were open-air and smoky," Burns said. "These were to try to freshen the air in the cabin for passengers."

The vases were mounted on brackets between the front and back seats and fresh cut flowers were placed in them.

"They probably didn't work too well," Burns said.

The vases were sold at jewelry and auto stores. Locating the vases is quite the hunt, Burns said.

"I can go to 100 antique stores and never find one," he said.

"It is very exciting to find one, and most of the time the seller does not know what it is." Burns has more than 38 vases in his collection.

The most he ever paid was $300 for a Quezal vase. Quezal was a glass and decorating company in the 1900s.

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This photograph by Gerri Levine captures a crow at Green Valley Park. The crow had just won a fight with other birds and was strutting its stuff, Levine said. The photo was a best in show winner.

So why does someone start collecting air fresheners? Burns, an auto mechanic for 40 years, said he likes the history behind them and the range of designs.

Diane Mullaly said she was impressed by Burn's collection.

"The fact that he made a display is really great," Mullaly said. "That took a lot of thought."

Burns created a custom case to securely hold the vases made of wood and glass.

Like his wife, longtime fair volunteer Tom Mullaly thought Burn's collection was impressive.

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The bird was photographed as snow was falling and a flake landed on top of the bird's head.

And Tom said he knows his collectibles. He owned an antique store in Payson for more than six years.

"I'm a knickknack man," Tom said.

Tom oversaw the hobbies and crafts booth this year. "Every year is different and there is always something new and exciting to see."

Another big winner at the fair was Gerri Levine, 60, who won three best of shows and 18 first places for her photographs.

This is first time in three years Levine has won a best in show.

"It is very neat and very good," Levine said of winning.

Levine beat out more than 75 people who entered some 650 photos.

"People like to enter because our fair gets judged by Arizona Highways magazine," Levine said.

Levine started making photos in the 1970s, but stopped until 1995 when she picked up a digital camera. "I was hooked," she said.

After moving to Payson, Levine went on a photo shoot with a professional instructor where she learned photography was her creative outlet.

"I think if I were reborn, I would be a photojournalist," she said. Levine is a retired biochemist.

"What I do best is capture the moment," Levine said. "Being at the right place at the right time."

One of Levine's best in show photos captures a crow at Green Valley Park. The crow had just won a fight with other birds and was strutting its stuff, Levine said.

Another close-up photo, which won best in show, details falling snowflakes landing on a bird.

Next year, Levine plans to enter the professional category and hopefully sell her photos.

Ed Toliver, superintendent for the photography department, said once a participant enters the professional category they can never go back to the amateur level.

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