Sometimes, the simplest idea takes on a life of its own.
Prime example: The “Oh, You Turkey” art contest that has been a part of the Star Tribune for 35 years.
No one meant for it to become a contest, recalled Bruce Bjerva, a page designer who has drawn every turkey.
The first bird appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune in 1978, when Food section editors gave him the cover and set him loose. In a move that likely endeared him to harried parents, Bjerva produced a full-page line drawing with the words: “Kids! Color this turkey and stay out of Mom and Dad’s way while they prepare Thanksgiving dinner!”
“But then people mailed them in the next week, just to say thanks for the fun,” Bjerva said.
Quick studies that they were, the editors realized they were on to something. The next year, they asked Bjerva to draw another turkey. This time, they turned it into a contest in which the most artistic fowls would earn kids some art supplies.
Hundreds, and eventually thousands, of entries flew into the newspaper. Last year, 3,000 kids transformed the bird with paints, crayons, glitter, macaroni, felt, pretzels and much, much more.
Bjerva, who grew up in Richfield, always draws a new turkey for each Thanksgiving, “although people have accused me of running the same turkey,” he said.
Not so. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, his turkey was perched upon the world, surrounded by stars. One election year, his turkey had a prominent left wing as a friendly dig to his right-wing brother-in-law (who appreciated the joke).
In 2003, when Bjerva’s son was born, his drawing included a baby turkey.
Each turkey is created over a November weekend. “What can I say? We’re deadline-driven up here,” he said, smiling. When he gets the annual reminder, “I just start putting pencil to paper and see what happens.”
Notably (and for anyone who knows him, typically), Bjerva has avoided taking credit for work that has become a part of many family traditions.
“I like being anonymous,” he said. “I’m not really the artist. The kids are the artists. I’m just delivering the lines for the bird.”
This year, he had a little fun with those lines: Somewhere within the feathers of today’s turkey lurks the number 35 — four times.