ART: COUNTY FAIR POSTERS : Bumper Crop : This year, the popular Ventura County Fair posters will feature an antique bumper car.

At first he might look like any old poster car. But upon closer inspection, said Devlin Raley, the creative director behind the Ventura County Fair posters, you can see that "he" has much more personality.

Like "any well-done poster, the more you look at it, the more you see in it," said Raley.

"Look at those red lines on the front," Raley said pointing at his creation. "See how they form a benign grin? That provides a great dichotomy. On the one hand, bumper cars are those scary rides that toss you around. Yet here's this car smiling at you.

"And although he's friendly, you can see he's sturdy and strong. There's almost a machismo about him. I mean, if this guy asked to buy (a woman) a drink, of course (she) would say yes."

As senior partner of Creative Images in Ventura, Raley has designed the past 10 fair posters and the last two posters for the Oxnard Strawberry Festival.

In the beginning, the fair posters were simply a promotional tool. They were put up around town to advertise the event. But since then, the hot-selling posters have grown into collectors' items.

"We've created a monster," said Raley, who now has the task of trying to wow the public each year.

"It's always terrifying in January and February when I start thinking about what to do. And then, eventually, an idea will just come to me about a month before the poster has to be done."

A lover of antiques, Raley tries to incorporate them into his work whenever possible. So when this year's fair theme of "A Timeless Tradition" was decided upon, an antique bumper car was a natural.

Raley said he usually doesn't use a picture that represents just one aspect of the fair, such as the midway. But bumper cars have been a fair tradition for decades.

In 1985, another antique, and another midway favorite was used for the poster--the Dentzel carousel horse. That poster was the start of the collector series.

"We gave about 3,000 posters out to the businesses so they could put them up in their windows to advertise the fair," Raley said. "But then we noticed that they weren't staying in the window. People were taking them home and framing them."

From then on, an additional 2,000 posters were printed on higher-quality paper and sold at the fair. And the free promotional posters were punched with a hole so that they would not compete in value with the collectors' item.

The 1987 to 1990 posters are available at the Ventura County Fair administration office for $15 each. The 1986 picture of a tide pool was sold out, and there are no plans for a second printing. The 1985 carousel horse also sold out. But that poster went through a second printing, as indicated on the posters, and costs $50 at the administration building.

Original first-printing carousel posters pop up sporadically at local art galleries. Raley and some gallery owners said they have seen them priced as high as $250.

Bud Arnold, owner of Classic Frames and Art Gallery in Ventura, said he would take a gamble and buy an original 1985 carousel horse for about $30 and try to resell it. JoAnna Steele, owner of the Studio Gallery, said she would consider paying $50 to $100 for an original in mint condition.

The carousel horse has proven to be the most popular poster, but the 1986 tide pool was the most difficult to make.

In his quest for authenticity, Raley insisted on using live sea creatures, such as starfish and urchins. Fresh water had to be added continually, and about 12 experts in handling ocean life crowded his small studio.

Not including the construction of the box, the tide pool scene took two days to set up and about two hours to photograph.

Authenticity was a major factor in this year's bumper car poster as well. After Raley located an antique car, he pored over old popular magazines and trade publications to try to find a picture of that particular model. He finally used a photograph from a 1940 Saturday Evening Post to aid in the car's restoration.

"Sure, I could have cheated and had the car done in any colors and design I wanted," he said. "But if I'm cooking and a recipe calls for butter, I'm not going to use Parkay."

* ON THE COVER: The fair posters from 1987 and 1990.

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