By Sam Taff
Five years ago, Connie Fravel was getting ready to throw out the local paper when she noticed the Shenandoah County Fair tabloid.
While leafing through it she discovered the youth arts and crafts entry forms.
Like many other moms, she thought her son was a budding artist and figured why not enter some of his art.
Now 9, Hayden has turned a few entries into a summer-long project. He's not bashful to let you know he's in it for the money.
Last year Hayden raked in over $57 in prize money for his art.
Visiting the house where the budding artist lives just south of Strasburg, visitors are greeted with a gallery of mini projects that he hopes will boost his bank account while he has a little fun at the same time.
His mom is quick to point out the idea wasn't for Hayden to make money. "I'm just trying to keep his brain from turning to mush," she says with a smile.
Hayden is the first generation in his family to enter his wares at the fair. His mother was never involved in fair projects, and his father Paul helped his own father show dairy cows, but never did it himself.
Hayden says planning ahead for the fair is important.
"I start a couple of months before so I have enough time to make the stuff," he says. "I think of what I'm going to do and get what I need to do it."
Some of the ideas come from Internet searches, like the mosaic he is entering this year using seed, which impressed his mother.
"You just wouldn't think to do something like that," she says.
Some of the projects take only minutes while others take longer.
This year Hayden is moving up into an older age category and the thought of competing against 13-year-olds has him a little nervous. "It's going to be a little stiffer competition," he says.
In his first year, at the age of 4, Hayden entered about eight projects and won a blue ribbon for his crayon picture. This year the categories are broader and more difficult, and he expects to enter work in more than 20 categories, including a lot of still photography.
As his mother remembers, "We sat down one day a few weeks ago and went through about 900 pictures."
Hayden remembers too. "That was no fun."
He is always looking for the next winning photo. You'll find pictures of him making funny faces into the lens, or sticking his camera out the window in a blowing snow storm to capture a cardinal sitting on a branch. One of those pictures could give him a ribbon and add to his cash prize.
In his bedroom he has most of his creations on display or neatly tucked in a toy chest. Each one has a story and most have ribbons attached.
While showing them off he stops, jumps up and runs across the room.
"This is my favorite, look at this," he exclaims, picking up a rock with a face painted on the front. "It's a hedgehog." Pieces of wood are glued to the back of the rock and even without explanation it's easy to tell what it is.
Hayden also enjoys some down time between projects. He likes texting with friends on his iPod and swimming in the family pool. But he expects to keep up his artwork for a few more years.
Hayden says doing the projects isn't always fun, but when asked if he would recommend it to others he was quick with an answer: "Tell them to do it."
If they do, they can expect to find Hayden's family at the exhibit building Sunday scoping out all the exhibits looking for ribbons. Hayden will be up early that morning waiting to go to the fair to find out what he won.