Eighth annual StrawFest Day a success, organizers say

Seth Larson of Shorewood and Alex Phillips of Monee roll a large hay bale down Wesley Avenue in Mt. Morris during StrawFest on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. The bale rolling was one of the activities. The pair won the event in 10.89 seconds.

MT. MORRIS — The eighth annual U.S. National Straw Sculpting Competition culminated in a day full of activities, music and awards.

StrawFest Day took place on the Mt. Morris campus Aug. 26, featuring a crafters’ market, a blacksmith demo, Rustic Ridge Axe Throwing, round straw bale races in the street, a food truck, and live music by Truman’s Ridge, a bluegrass band. It was the final hurrah of the event showcasing large straw sculptures that ran from Aug. 11-27.

“I think it went very well overall,” organizer Jeff Bold said. “I think the really cool thing about this is, there’s always somebody there. It’s an open-air, outdoor event people can come to any time, and the setting on the campus in the shade is perfect for it.”

The U.S. National Straw Sculpting Competition started in Rochelle in 2016, after artist Fran Volz visited the small village of Höchenschwand, Germany, which hosts an annual straw-sculpting competition that draws thousands of visitors. The event moved to Mt. Morris in 2017, where it is hosted by Encore! Mt. Morris.

“Overall, it was well attended,” Bold said of StrawFest day. “We feel it was a big success. StrawFest Day was a lot of fun, and we’ll continue to grow it year over year.”

“Overall, it was well attended. We feel it was a big success. StrawFest Day was a lot of fun, and we’ll continue to grow it year over year.”

—  StrawFest organizer Jeff Bold

Four straw sculptures were entered in this year’s competition, and were showcased alongside entries from past years. Sculptures must be a minimum of 6.5 feet in height, length or width and at least 90% straw on the surface, according to competition rules.

Straw sculptors Chris and Cecilia Mann, of Rockford, said it took them about one month to build their creation, “Three-Toed Straw Sloth.” They used as much recycled materials as they could find, Chris Mann said.

The Manns have participated in the contest since 2018, when they entered “Strawsquash.” Other sculptures they’ve made include a snail and a turtle.

“That seems to be a theme in our work — we do slow-moving animals,” Chris Mann joked.

This year, the straw they got was from someone who does antique threshing, Cecilia Mann said. It made for nicer straw, and improved the look of the sculpture, she said.

“We enjoy doing it,” Chris Mann said. “We think it’s a fun event for families to bring kids out to especially. I really like that they’re able to save the straw sculptures year to year.”

A plaque for volunteer Rose Avey was also dedicated in front of the bandshell during a short evening presentation.

Avey, who passed away earlier this year, was a lifelong Mt. Morris resident, graduate of Mt. Morris High School, and StrawFest and Let Freedom Ring volunteer.

Her plaque reads: “MMMHS Class of 1971, Mighty Mounder, Rose Sheely Avey”.

The ninth annual U.S. National Straw Sculpting Competition is scheduled for Aug. 9-25, 2024. StrawFest Day will be Aug. 24, 2024.


First place for Peoples’ Choice was “Oscar the Grouch,” by father-daughter duo Mark and Danica Rogers, of Rochelle. The “Sesame Street” character also took second place in the Artists’ Choice category.

Husband and wife team Chris and Cecilia Mann, of Rockford, claimed first place in Artists’ Choice and second place in Peoples’ Choice with their “Three-Toed Straw Sloth” sculpture.

“For the Love of Rose” — a giant rose with a spinning bumble bee near the petals — created by Doreen White, of Forreston, won third place in Peoples’ Choice. White made the sculpture in memory of Rose Avey, of Mt. Morris, who died in November 2022.

Steve Lentz, of Montello, Wisconsin, took third place in Artists’ Choice with “Swimming Bliss,” which depicts a mother dolphin and her calf riding a wave.

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner is a dynamic writer with more than eight years of professional experience. She is reliable and hardworking, with an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for developing and reporting engaging content. She has won numerous awards for her work as a journalist, including a first place award for investigative reporting.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 8 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.