October 9, 2010

Ohio Swiss Fest: A Photo Essay

Sugarcreek, Ohio is a tiny town about 2 hours north of Columbus, Ohio. It consists of a spectacular Alpine Village nestled amidst the endlessly rolling hills of Amish country.  But what sets this place apart from other rural towns of Middle America is a bustling cheese industry and an unexpeted dose flaboyantly decorated buildings.  I recently visited this "Little Switzerland of Ohio" and have returned triumphantly with what I hope to be a dazzling photo essay. 


Driving into the town, you know you have arrived by the typical office and residential structures...they are quaint unassuming structures with something a bit more added on for good measure.  A hint of what's to come and you anxiously speed toward Main Street!

An Amish Monument cheerfully basks in the sunlight...the suspense builds....

We have finally arrived! Welcome to Sugarcreek, the Little Switzerland of Ohio!

Main Street is full of buildings like the one pictured above, however none are as large or impressively ornate as the Alpine Hills Museum: a must-see destination inside and out for visitors of all ages. 



Vintage posters, newspaper articles, and children's depictions of Sugarcreek can be found among historical re-creations of Amish interiors and old cheese-making barns.

The interior lobby of the Alpine Hills Museum is a bizarre mash-up of general country nostalgia/folk art, Swiss heritage, and conservative Middle America propaganda. This space is perhaps the epicenter of Sugarcreek's identity: a place where one would expect Google's little red map pin to land while searching for Sugarcreek, Ohio.  Nevertheless, this space projects the dark, unsettling side to Sugarcreek: for this is a non-place, torn between conflicting identities of Swiss heritage and Middle American conservatism.  Celebrate cheese, chocolate, and those omnipresent snowcapped Alps, but don't you dare fly that red and white crossed flag!

Pure spectacle, but unfortunately the world's largest functioning cuckoo clock (debatable) is currently being restored. Thankfully, there's always YouTube.



Architecturally, the most impressive area of Sugarcreek can be found at the intersection of Main St & Factory St. It is here that artist Tom Miller has created fantastic murals on the gabled facades of commercial buildings. The Swiss Alp landscapes are highlighted by moving model trains and alpine skiers.  The concept of motion in architecture is witnessed here at a most miniature scale. A whole building provides the canvas for a motorized small piece of metal.  I call these fantastic pieces of art "active facades" and have uploaded a couple of examples over on YouTube.



As for the actual festival, 8 million pounds of cheese are annually produced in Sugarcreek, which create the (desperate) need for a massive event to sell all of the excess cheese reserves.  Many different awards are given, but to the average cheese eater such as myself, it is all mouthwateringly (?) delicious. This region also produces wine, but I would (politely) defer similar high praise to the California varieties.


There were all sorts of spectacles to witness including a "cheese chase" (5K run), grown men wearing traditional Swiss folk gear, an Alphorn concert, a Steintossen competition, and a curiously American-themed parade complete with an impressive car show of hot rods and post-war gas-guzzling muscle cars.   


The winning float in the parade was provided by McDonald's. Who knew Ronald McDonald was so crafty!? A late afternoon visit to McDonald's revealed that Sugarcreek's Swiss Miss Main Street spirit had begun to penetrate the global superpower's cookie cutter red and yellow boxes. A surprising end to an equally surprising (but unfortunately brief) visit to Little Switzerland.

3 comments:

Kevin Clement said...

it's... beautiful!

lillinda said...

Reminds me of Helen, Georgia.

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