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Dinosaur straw bale art

By Kathy Corgatelli Neville

For Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

When Darla Hoff and daughter Savannah Hoff Fratto transform ordinary straw bales into extraordinary works of art, it never disappoints.

Their latest creation, Baby Dinosaurs, is now on full display at the Al and Karen Goldman farm a few miles south of Idaho Falls on Hitt Road.

The roadside attraction has been a tradition for over a decade now. And through the years, it’s become a must-see destination as daylight hours shorten and temperatures dip, signaling a brand new season.

This year a bright, orange Triceratops, painted by Savannah Fratto, and an equally bright, lime green, Brontosaurus painted by Darla Hoff, guarantees to evoke smiles on the outside and on the inside of every visitor, regardless of age.

“We had a lot of options but we tend to lean toward bright colors and happy, cute subjects,” Darla Hoff said. “This is one of the few times we haven't followed the latest kids’ movie theme.”

Savannah Fratto has helped from the very beginning, only taking a few years off when she was away to college.

“It's always been a great bonding project for my mom and I for the last decade or so,” she said.

And over the years, how happy and cute their creations have been. There’s been Star Wars, Thomas the Train, the ever-popular and always entertaining Minions, the loveable, UNscary Monsters from the Monsters Inc., and a giant, cuddly teddy bear, just to name a few.

Overall, the teddy bear remains Karen Goldman’s favorite. Making it even more fun was when Savannah Fratto finished it off with a great big bow tie, Karen Goldman said.

That creation found a larger audience when Karen Goldman entered a picture of it in the annual Steiner Tractor Calendar contest and it was selected as October’s picture in the company’s 2016 calendar.

In the picture, the teddy bear is the backdrop for a 1948 Allis Chalmers G tractor that Karen Goldman learned to drive as a young girl on her parents’ farm and was restored by Al Goldman and their son, Chad Goldman.

Karen Goldman keeps a picture diary of each straw bale creation.

“The teddy bear is my favorite and the dueling tractors is James Hoff’s favorite, but overall, most people like the Minions the best. They have been the biggest hit. It’s just all fun,” Karen Goldman said.

Like all things, the art and its purpose evolved. It grew from Darla’s clever advertisement directing potential customers to her pumpkin patch, a few miles south of the Goldman’s.

Once Al Goldman harvested and placed a single round straw bale in their yard, Darla painted it to resemble the face of a huge, smiling, orange and black, jack-o’-lantern.

After several years, when Darla quit raising pumpkins, the tradition continued the very next year with an owl sitting on a tree limb.

The towering, three-large round bale teddy bear required a total of 11 bales to build, rivaling the number needed to build the dueling green John Deere and red Case tractors.

Lots of paint and time were needed and the project involved practically everyone in the close-knit farming neighborhood. The project quickly became the focus of die-hard John Deere fans, like Al and Karen Goldman and Case tractor fans, like neighbor Steven Longhurst.

The owners of the Blackfoot John Deere dealership even got involved by contributing some green paint.

Karen Goldman makes sure there’s plenty of paint and other supplies on hand and can be counted on to head to town to get more if needed.

Once Darla designed the dueling tractors and calculated the number of bales needed, the guys stepped up. But Instead of using simple, single spray cans of paint, like the gals, they put a little, or rather, a lot of power, behind their efforts with a heavy-duty air compressor.

Like in years past, the images are often enhanced with ordinary items. This year, Darla Hoff used a lime green pool noodle for the tail of her dinosaur. It was used last year for one of the arms of Mike Wazowski’s, the one-eyed character in the Monsters Inc. movie.

They’ve even re-used straw bales. This year’s display was made from the same four round and four square straw bales used last year.

“We just turned them around and used the other side,” Darla Hoff said.

Another contribution were several old tail pipes used for the smokestacks on the dueling tractors creation.

The projects typically take an average of about four to five hours to paint and this year the mother-daughter duo used about 20 cans of spray paint.

To help out with expenses, sometimes visitors leave monetary donations or to express appreciation for their talent and time spent, they’ll write and leave sweet little notes of thanks.

The art has been the site of several school field trips, or men with marriage on their mind and “Honey will you marry me?” on their lips.

Their creations have been featured in Country

Magazine and in numerous area newspaper articles, they’ve been photographed by professionals, and have been the main subject of lots and lots of selfies like the one Aleece Reid and daughter Olivia Reid, 5, of Firth recorded during their recent visit.

“I grew up just down the road from the Goldman’s up at the Idaho Falls Country Club,” Aleece Reid said. “There are only two ways to town and I’d always ask my mom to go past the cute hay bales. It was always something that made our day just a little better when we drove by them.

“Now married and living out in Firth, my daughter Olivia is now asking me when we make the trek to the ‘big city’ if we can go see the cute hay bales! We both really look forward to making the drive into Idaho Falls and stop to say hello to this year's creations!”

When 5-year-old Olivia Reid saw them, she was more than just a little impressed.

“Just look at these HUGE, cute dinosaurs,” Olivia said. “The orange one looks super nice. Big, but nice.”

If have time to visit, stay a little while and while you are at it, check out all the subtle little touches, the mark of true artists.

“A little dimension gives the eyes a little glimmer and a little mischief, too. And this color of blue,” Darla said while holding up a can of bright blue spray paint, “it reminds me of Karen’s pretty, blue eyes.”