Glass Toast, Balloon Sushi and The Art of Food

The greatest thing since sliced bread might be the glass toast by Sandra Gross and Leah Busch at The Art of Food, in its sixth year at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington.

The greatest thing since sliced bread might be the glass toast by Sandra Gross and Leah Busch at The Art of Food, in its sixth year at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington.

“This is going to be branding material,” gallery director Bill Seitz decided after the Brazee Street artists delivered a small serving at last year’s show. Figuratively speaking, half a loaf was not enough. This year, the colorful, glossy slices decorate the exhibit’s program and deservedly have a big room of their own. 

Gross and Busch elevate a craft to an art form. A tile might look like Wonder Bread, but it’s not mass-produced, Seitz says, noting that each piece is time-intensive, as the glass is fired multiple times for different effects. 

And what effects! Plaid toast pops out of a vintage toaster. A rack of Rothko toast glows in shades of orange, red and brown. Images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, the Virgin Mary and even W.C. Fields are mini-miracles. The room’s centerpiece is a light table displaying dozens of slices topped with glass butter, jam, cheese and sunny-side-up eggs. The artists have even sprinkled “cinnamon” to make smiley faces, as a parent might do to amuse a child at breakfast. Seitz calls such a memory-triggering detail “another layer of animation.” 

For actual animation, check out the 20-foot mobile under the Carnegie’s dome. Sayaka Ganz and Jim Merz of Fort Wayne, Ind., have combined bright plastic dinnerware, LED lights, pulleys and computer technology into a rotating garland titled “Eat, Drink & Celebrate.” Summer is months away, but when you see this installation you can taste the margaritas, smell the barbecue and hear the salsa music by the pool. 

“I’ll never look at marked-down plastic ware at Kmart or Target the same way,” Seitz says.

You’ll never look at balloon artists the same way, either, after seeing what Vicky Kimble of Loveland does. She, too, has transformed a craft or hobby, earning the title of world-champion certified balloon artist. That means more than making wiener dogs for birthday parties. Kimble has snipped, twisted and shaped deflated balloons and other materials to create realistic-looking plates of spaghetti and meatballs, a burger and fries, sushi and snacks.  

Each year The Art of Food includes artists (besides the opening-night chefs, of course) working with food itself. Loveland’s Kim Shifflett, who usually paints, says she and Jacquelyn Sommer felt a bit like fish out of water when creating “Fish Out of Water.” Using molds of real seafood, they made fish, crab claws, oysters and mussels out of colored gelatin and set up a stand to resemble an old-fashioned open-air fish market. In keeping with the food theme, crates holding the seafood are filled with Earth-friendly cornstarch foam that resembles chipped ice. 

Not all of the installation looks appetizing — green fish? — but it looks authentic. A trout made of gelatin really does feel like a trout, and you could even slap someone with it, Shifflett jokes. It’s good execution of an idea that was just a rough drawing when it was presented to Seitz.

“I love empowering artists,” he says.

Collage artist Sara Pearce actually has a culinary background. The former features editor and arts writer attended the Restaurant School in Philadelphia and wrote about food and dining at newspapers including The Enquirer. Her professional life has been a melting pot of interests, and at a food-inspired art exhibit Pearce lives up to expectations with more of her scenes that juxtapose vintage illustrations with modern, wicked humor. Be sure to read her sly titles, such as “It was Sarah’s belief that mushrooms made meals magical.” Pearce’s materials include paint color cards with food names such as Golden Mushroom, Chili Pepper and Vintage Wine.

Fiber artist Pam Kravetz and the BonBonerie’s Sharon Butler put the icing on the cake at The Art of Food. Kravetz, at the exhibit last year with her well-known marionette-style dolls, says she wanted to push herself this year by working with a different form and directly with a chef. Kravetz’s giant hoop skirts, laden with baking tins, party favors and foam cakes with royal icing, are something out of Project Runway-meets-Cake Boss.  

At the opening, three women stood on pedestals to model the skirts and bodices that Kravetz had decorated with candies, silverware and wedding place cards. There were smiles all around. How could something so obviously heavy also be so uplifting? Ah, that’s the magic of good food and good art.  

THE ART OF FOOD exhibit is free and continues through April 13 at Covington’s Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center.

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