Brian Sobaski brings straw to life in front of your eyes

Brian Sobaski is bringing some unique art to the N.C. State Fair in 2022 – something you’ve probably never seen. He’s creating straw sculptures of animals, and you can watch him at work three times a day during the fair. You’ll find him beside the breezeway outside the Agri Supply Expo Center.

This is the first time Sobaski has ever created his works of art while an audience is watching. He usually creates straw sculptures before an event and leaves them to be viewed after he’s gone. While he’s a bit shy naturally, he’ll happily answer questions as he works on his art.

“It’s one of those art pieces that just hits you right over the head – ‘wow, that’s a creature out of straw! That’s new and fresh,’” Sobaski said. “An artist friend of mine once said, ‘You know what’s great about them is that you don’t have to be detailed because they’re a bit like cloud animals where the viewers mind fills in the blanks,’ and I’m like, “That’s great. That’s perfect. That’s what I wanted.’”

Sobaski said he’s not a particularly patient sculptor, so he enjoys that his large sculptures – some as high as 14-feet tall – can take shape in just about three days. He finds that quick gratification rather rewarding.

The base of his sculptures starts with wooden pieces to give shape. He connects pieces with welded metal gussets and also secures the pieces to the ground with metal rods into the ground. From there, some chicken wire helps fill out the shape before Sobaski adds straw on top and secures it with twine.

The first time he did a straw sculpture was in 2012. He’d been a sculptor for many years, often working with welding and repurposed materials. Then in that year, his daughter wanted a straw camel to go with her Halloween costume. After getting some inspiration from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts he came home and found more inspiration around his home and garden.

“There were fence posts and straw from doing lasagna-layered gardening, and there was twine – basically mason twine from laying out the shapes of the gardens that I was making – and I put the camel together in three or four days, and it was just a huge hit.”

He got lots of press attention, and from there interest in his new art grew. On that first project, and for several more, he used traditional hay straw that he bought at the grocery store. These days, Sobaski likes to use an organic orchard grass (Timothy grass) grown by a small farmer in Forest Lake, Minnesota. He often dampens it to help make it more malleable before he puts in in place on the skeleton-like wooden/wire forms that he builds.

A fairgoer poses with one of Sobaski’s straw sculptures.

He does sometimes still use straw or hay, or even corn or rice husks if they’re available in the area where he travels to create his sculptures.

“I can use anything where I go,” Sobaski said. “A lot of times before I get there, I’ll call and I’ll find a farmer who grows something for me to make [the sculptures] before I go there. So, it’s kind of fun to interact that way.”

Fairgoers can also have a bit of interaction, not only by talking to Sobaski, but by mingling into the impromptu sculpture garden he’s created between the Agri Supply Expo Center and the Jim Graham building. It’s a great place to take a break and to take pictures.

“You know, that’s really fun. People are really receptive,” Sobaski said. “They’ve never seen anything like this before. And I think, yeah, I think they like it.”

Expect to see Sobaski’s latest rendition of a straw camel, along with birds, farm animals and even a crab – an animal he’s making for the first time while he’s at the N.C. State Fair. Find Sobaski on the daily schedule here:

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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