James Fairchild is a man of many hobbies.
The Federal Way resident says he has an addictive personality, so he sticks to healthy obsessions. For now, those include art, music, coffee, his six dogs and, of course, his crafts.
Fairchild has been a bodybuilder, a hairdresser and a fashion enthusiast throughout his eclectic life. He graduated from Western Washington University as a vocal performance major.
But many people — especially those at the Washington State Fair’s Hobby Hall — know him for his decorative trees.
“I love doing it in my free time,” he said. “That’s kind of how it started.”
He has created a festive tree for nearly every holiday at various retailers, including Macy’s and a Starbucks store that was managed by his partner.
In 2006, after learning that the fair’s Hobby Hall offered a trim-a-tree competition, Fairchild created his first competitive tree — a Starbucks-themed entry festooned with lids, cups and other familiar items. He won the grand prize.
“After the first year I was hooked,” he said.
Now, he’s putting the finishing details on his entry for this year’s Hobby Hall competition — the eighth he’s entered — during the 17-day fair that opens Sept. 6. Fairchild said he has won at least 70 ribbons at the fairgrounds for various craft competitions, such as scrapbooking and card making.
But his specialty is trees, he said.
“I love doing stuff for the fair,” said Fairchild, who grew up in Lakewood and regularly went to the fair as a kid. “I hope I live to be 110 because I have ideas to last that long.”
The fair’s Hobby Hall competitions include more than 30 categories, such as woodcarving, doll houses, calligraphy and Lego-building. Thousands of ribbons have been awarded over 50-plus years, said Hobby Hall superintendent Eileen Meyer.
Cash prizes are given to the top entries, and fairgoers are able to vote daily on a “People’s Choice” award. All hobby entries are displayed during the duration of the fair.
Meyer said Fairchild is one of many repeat hobbyists. Every year there are about 900 entries, and roughly 80 percent are submitted by veteran participants, she said.
“We have something for everybody,” Meyer said.
Fairchild is well-known in Hobby Hall, and Meyer said he stands out because of his bright personality and vivid imagination.
“He is just very innovative,” she said. “The minute the fair is over he is thinking ahead to the next year.”
Time is running out for hobbyists to submit their crafts for the competition. Online registration is due Wednesday, and entries need to be dropped off at the fairgrounds during designated times Aug. 23-25.
Fairchild said he will be there bright and early Friday assembling his tree. It’s a tribute to the 80th Annual Daffodil Festival, complete with a miniature princess float. Rules allow competitors to start their crafts two years in advance, and Fairchild said he generally starts working on his tree a year ahead. In the final weeks before bringing it to Hobby Hall, he said, he spends between 18 and 20 hours a week working on the details.
It is an expensive hobby, he said; he once spent 10 times the amount of his prize money to decorate his tree.
But Fairchild said the money and time spent on each entry are worth it.
“It’s not like work,” he said. “It’s therapy.”
Fairchild says he keeps coming back because he likes to share his passion with thousands of Hobby Hall visitors. But he especially loves the close bond with repeat hobbyists and fair organizers.
“It’s like a family there.”