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Everything You Need To Know About The Big E

The Big E is not the place most people think of to see works of art by the Old Masters. It's a place to listen to live music, eat crazy, indulgent foods, ride the carousel and the Ferris wheel and argue over which cow or lamb or pig is superior to all the others.

But this year, a 4,000-square-foot space at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield is set aside for a show of 14 works by Michelangelo. At least, full-size reproductions of one of the most famous sets of artworks in world history: the Biblical-inspired frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

"Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition" features all nine of the chapel's "Genesis" artworks, all about 12 feet tall by 12 feet wide, as well as four more full-size artworks. The final piece in the show is a 12-by-12 (not life-size) reproduction of "The Last Judgment." All are photographs printed on a fabric surface resembling plaster, to mimic the fresco look.

Martin Biallas, CEO of Los Angeles-based Special Entertainment Events, Inc., came up with the idea of the exhibit a few summers ago in Rome.

"I was with some frends from Australia. I wanted to take them to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel," he says. "Those lines at the Sistine Chapel were thousands and thousands of people. Once you got in there were hundreds of people in there any given time, screaming and yelling. If you were even thinking about photos the security guards grabbed your camera.

"Most of the people wanted to focus on Michelangelo's work, all of the frescoes on the ceiling. But the ceiling is 60 feet high. Every fresco looks like a little bigger than a stamp."

Biallas wanted to bring reproductions of the frescoes to accessible venues, still life-sized, but placed down low where people could appreciate the artistry and take pictures of them. (And — no small consideration — without having to pay airfare to Rome.) He tried getting the rights from the Vatican to photograph the frescoes. His request was ignored. So he sought out photographs by Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, who had been given the rights to create high-quality photos of the chapel frescoes. Lessing's photos are the basis for the exhibit.

The full set of Biallas' fresco reproductions numbers 34 pieces, including "The Last Judgment," which is 41 feet by 41 feet. The full set has been exhibited in places around the world, but only 14 will be shown at The Big E because of space considerations.

"I would need 10,000 square feet to show them all, and the space is 4,000 square feet," he says.

The reproductions at The Big E include the most legendary of all of Michelangelo's pieces, "The Creation of Adam."

The frescoes inevitably will attract a strong Christian audience, Biallas says, but he doesn't see it as a religious show.

"We want this to be more an art-history exhibit than a Catholic event."

Admission to "Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel," which will be in the Young Building from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, is free with admission to The Big E. A bilingual Spanish and English booklet will be sold at the exhibit to show all 34 of the artworks.

New Food Highlights

New this year on the food scene are a deep-fried Holy Cannoli at the Coffee Break. The traditional ricotta filling is encased in a dough, fried and served with chocolate chip ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, cinnamon, sugar and whipped cream. The Flatliner Burger at the West Springfield Lions Club vendor is two patties topped with chili, French fries, cheese sauce and bacon. There are gourmet tater tots, waffle chicken bites, a Belgian waffle sandwich and chocolate-covered strawberry waffle bombs. More on the food options can be found at ctnow.com/bigefood.

What Else?

There's a parade daily at 5 p.m., and Mardi Gras parades are also daily Friday to Sunday at 5 p.m. and Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Connecticut Day is Sept. 20, and the Big E Circus Spectacular is daily at 1, 4 and 7 p.m.

The midway is open Sunday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Pricing for the midway is separate from admission. There are car shows, shopping, livestock, a wine and cheese barn. And don't miss the butter sculpture created from 600 pounds of butter.

New events include:

Eastern States Exposition: A Walk Through History, an exhibit about the history of the Big E, at the Hampden County Building daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Camel Kingdom, an exhibit focusing on the dromedary camel, at Avenue Show Place daily at 12, 2:30, and 7 p.m.

Everything That Matters in the Kitchen, a cooking show with Dianne Linderman, to support the Big E's Farm-to-Fork Initiative, at the Mallary Rotunda daily at 11:30 a.m., 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Draft horse shows featuring Guy McLean and his Australian horses. Sept. 28 to 30 at 1 and 6 p.m and Oct. 1 at noon and 6 p.m. Other horse shows include the Heritage Horse Show Sept. 13 to 17 and saddle horses Sept. 21 to 24.

Street performers impersonating Don Rickles and Danny Devito, as well as Mardi Gras showgirls can be seen around the grounds daily.

An app has been created to enhance The Big E experience, featuring information about tickets, a map, a schedule, a list of attractions, a menu of food and drink options, a list of shopping options, Big E news, social media links and other Big E information. It can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

THE BIG E runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 1 at the Eastern States Exposition, 1305 Memorial Ave. in West Springfield. The gates open at 8 a.m. for agricultural events and breakfast. The Avenue of States, Storrowton Village, Craft Common and most exhibits and buildings open at 10 a.m. The midway opens at 11 a.m. Sunday to Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday. The fairgrounds are open until 10 p.m. Sunday to Friday, 11 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $15, $10 children ages 6 to 12, free for children 5 and younger. Value passes are available on site and at Big Y supermarkets. thebige.com.

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