Family sews generational seams

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Jillian Lockwood is the fourth generation of her family that has been involved in showing exhibits at the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.

LOVINGTON, N.M. – When Karen and Karole Kemper were youngsters in southern Lea County, they followed their mother’s lead and became involved with arts and crafts.

All three ladies showed their talents at the county festival. Their mother, 89-year-old Joyce Kemper, is still planning to show during this year’s Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for Friday, Aug. 4-Saturday, Aug. 12, at the fairgrounds in Lovington.

Three generations have been part of the annual expo, including Karen Jackson’s granddaughter, Jillian Lockwood, who is getting all her valuables ready for this year’s showcase inside the Yucca Building on the fairgrounds. That’s where arts, crafts, gardening and many other exhibits will be on display, and it’s a chance for fairgoers to enjoy another aspect of the fair and its contributors.

“I like promoting the ability to create things out of different materials with your hands,” said Karole Hunt, the youngest of the two Kemper girls. “What the kids make these days qualifies as a lost art. There’s a bit of a surge in sewing and using sewing machines, and I like being able to promote that. At the quilt store (for which she works), we encourage people to put their creations in the fair.”

There’s so much involved in the local fair, which is more of a regional exposition. With the PRCA rodeo, the other activities at Jake McClure Arena and the concert series, the Lea County Fair and Rodeo draws visitors from the Texas Panhandle, West Texas and a big portion of southeastern New Mexico.

But there’s a great deal that expresses the local flair and the importance of showcasing exhibitors, whether it’s through the various livestock shows or the crafts displays in the Yucca Building.

The fourth generation of the Kemper clan is involved in showing at the fair, while the third branch of the family tree focused on other things. With Jillian involved, it allows her great grandmother, her grandma and her great-aunt a chance to share their love affair with crafting.

“A lot of work goes into those projects they make and the produce that they grow,” Jackson said. “I’m always amazed, because I definitely don’t have a green thumb. The canning and highlighting a different aspect of those exhibits than what I’ve done is great to see. I like to see people’s creativity in the different things. The handiwork that some people do and seeing what these young kids can do is very interesting to me. I enjoy it all.”

It’s almost as if the exhibits in the Yucca Building are a tip of the cap to the generations that made life what it was many decades ago. The skills come from a time when people made their own clothes, canned their own food and blanketed themselves with quilts that were hand-made. As times have changed, many of those skills have been pushed to the backburner.

“It’s not so much about showing off the talents but showing other people that you can make your own and make it unique so you don’t have to buy everything,” Hunt said. “Mom inspired us to keep sewing alive.

“I’m more arts and crafty. I have shown clothes and made a dragonfly out of recycled materials. I have done a wall-hanging and cross-stitched. I entered sweepstakes a few years ago with my mother’s help with canning and baking.”

While there are opportunities for children to be involved through 4H, the fair also offers older folks the chance to showcase their wares and talents. For Jillian, the expo allows her to express her creativity while also being able to do all the other aspects of the fair.

“She enters her 4H projects like sewing, and she has won the sweepstakes in her division,” Jackson said of her granddaughter. “She also shows livestock; her dad showed livestock when he was younger but not in Lea County.

“My sister is the one that helps Jillian with showing. It’s something they like to do together.”

It fits in fine with Hunt’s personality.

“I’m the sewing aunt, so she does all her sewing projects with me and the other entries with my sister and her other grandmother,” Hunt said. “I have one granddaughter that sews, but she lives in Amarillo (Texas), so working with her regularly is difficult, and she can’t show in Lea County.”

More than anything, though, Hunt and Jackson are just carrying on a tradition while passing on the knowledge they have gained to the next generations. That might be one of the greatest parts of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.

“I really do like seeing the tradition continue,” Jackson said. “My mother is a beautiful seamstress. She doesn’t quilt much, but she’s made clothes for everyone. She started when she was really young, and she’s just continued to do it.”

Even as she nears 90, Joyce Kemper still has something to show to the folks at the local fair. Just down the aisle, her great-granddaughter’s work is on display, too.

That’s where the generations collide in the most unique way.


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