A palette of food yields palatable art

Exhibit: Carroll County teacher spices up class by using a medium that's rare - edible artwork.

November 22, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Guests milled about the art show, admiring reproductions of pop artist Wayne Thiebaud's Four Cupcakes and Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night.

They nodded approvingly at the thick swirls of color in Heather Meade's self-portrait.

And as the judges prepared to award prizes, they scurried about the room, making sure that each entry had the requisite serving spoons and knives. These works of art, after all, were made with four real cupcakes, dyed spaghetti and peanut butter and lots and lots of icing.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you may now eat the artwork," announced Beth Dunlap, an art teacher at South Carroll High School in Winfield.

Intent on broadening her students' definition of art, Dunlap invited them last year to submit edible art projects in conjunction with an exhibit that primarily focused on more traditional artistic offerings, such as paintings and drawings. Her invitation drew only six entries, and many of those were unsurprising gingerbread houses.

This year, Dunlap decided to devote an entire art show to edible creations. The number of entries doubled and - more importantly - her students' creativity skyrocketed.

Displayed on the long lunch tables of South Carroll's cafeteria were a medieval castle made of brownies and graham crackers, a Rice Krispie-treat snowman sculpture slathered with flour, syrup, honey and coconut, and a monkey made of a coconut and kiwi.

"They're thinking outside the box, that's for sure," she said. "Art is the cakes that you can buy from the grocery store that are decorated and shaped. That's an art form and an edible art show is a way to expand that.

"If I want to reproduce The Mona Lisa, I don't have to do that with pencil and charcoal," Dunlap added. "I can use chocolate, I can use icing and different kinds of candies and colors. That's thinking creatively, and that's art."

Far from tasty

With strict rules prohibiting any inedible supplies, students were forced to use ingredients such as peanut butter, marshmallow, syrup and honey as adhesives.

"It's edible but not tasty," self-portrait painter Heather Meade said, joking, of some of her friends' entries.

Instead of displaying their designs on cardboard or canvas, several students baked cakes and crafted landscapes and portraits and masterpiece reproductions on their doughy concoctions.

Such was the case with Doug Denison, a 17-year-old South Carroll senior who mimicked Thiebaud's whimsical cupcake painting by placing four iced cupcakes on a beige frosted sheet cake. He used chocolate icing to re-create the shadows that encircle each of the American artist's painted cupcakes.

"I thought it would be cool to take a painting, take the subject out of the painting and make it into what it really is, which is four cupcakes," Doug said. "It's a funny joke that art people will get."

Doug's girlfriend, Kristen Korpacz, didn't. "I don't know art," the 17-year-old senior said. "I just got to lick the spoon."

Doug received a gift certificate to McDonald's as winner of the "most appropriate choice of media" category.

Other prizes were awarded for the prettiest presentation, the most ambitious list of food ingredients, the most likely to be eaten first, the most artistically crafted, the food with the most character and the most unusual use of food. Three grand prize winners received Oscar-like statuettes of spray-painted kitchen tools standing upright on a wooden platform.

Kate Pollasch-Thames took home the bronze-tinted spatula for placing third with her reproduction of Starry Night, a swirling mass of food coloring-tinted spaghetti and peanut butter.

"Did you use smooth or chunky peanut butter?" Dunlap asked during the awards presentation. Told it was smooth, the art teacher quipped, "But van Gogh's so chunky," referring to the Dutch artist's thick application of paint.

Ashley Clark, a 16-year-old junior, received the silver spoon statuette for her second-place entry, a corn husk made of candy corn, peanut butter and strips of green Fruit Roll-Ups.

Lurking near the candy corn display with a camera, Sara Clark identified herself as "the proud mother with a very messy kitchen back at home."

Fashionable food

The first-place award - a golden whisk trophy - went to Shannon Connolly, a 17-year-old senior who splits her time between South Carroll High and the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster, where she's studying fashion design.

The artsy teen-ager made an edible shirt from a sleeveless top pattern and a patchwork piece of "material" - strips of green- and salmon-colored Fruit By the Foot and sheets of Fruit Roll-ups in a marbled, purple-streaked blue.

With her younger sister Kelsey nibbling away at her supplies and insufficient fruit yardage, Shannon decided to make her shirt into a breezy, backless creation. She used licorice strings to lace up the shirt.

"You could wear it only if you didn't move," she said. "But you wouldn't starve to death wearing it."

A show of respect

Dunlap could not have been more delighted with Thursday night's show, which raised $116 for the art department and inspired her to think even bigger next year.

"The best pieces, the kids didn't even eat them," she said.

Reflecting on slides she has seen of the wildly popular edible art shows at Catonsville High School and a similar contest she judged at Pikesville High School a few years ago, Dunlap said that students typically devour the artwork in edible shows the moment the judging is complete.

"Usually there's just a mad shoving, getting the food in as fast as possible and just destroying it," she said. "But the kids had such a respect for it as art here. We're really on our way."

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