“You eat with your eyes.”
Chef Beth Fisher of French Meadow Bakery in Minneapolis gave those words of advice to artist Ann Ribbens before they embarked on a joint effort to transform Fisher’s signature culinary dish — what she calls “the prettiest thing I ever designed” — into “The Color Palate Salad.” The result, an exuberant display of fabric, embellished with ruffles, embroidery, shells and a burst of colors, begs the viewer to indulge in a late summer harvest meal.
Artist Kristin Hoelscher-Schacker and Katie Myhre, who works with farmers and chefs on sourcing, got down to the basics with their partnership: soil health. “Katie had a passion for it,” said Hoelscher-Schacker, who had a photograph of the hands of a friend — a small farmer herself — printed on fabric. Using stitches and cloth, some printed from plants in her own garden (ecoprinting), she created “Healthy Roots,” which combines very old techniques with the very new.
Wild and crazy treats from Glam Doll Donuts and owners Arwyn Birch and Teresa Fox delighted artist Jennifer Davis as she dove into fabric scraps and acrylic paint and created her own collage of innovative “flavors.”
That’s only a taste of the bounty that makes up “Artists in the Kitchen,” a new exhibit at the Textile Center in Minneapolis, a collaboration among 50 women who are artists and 50 who are creatives in the culinary field.
The exhibit, which opens Thursday, pairs the Textile Center with Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR), a national organization with local restaurateur Kim Bartmann as its president. WCR will hold its national conference in Minneapolis in mid-April. This exhibit offers its nod to two areas —the kitchen and textiles — where women’s creativity has not always been acknowledged.
Bartmann was thrilled at the tie-in with the conference and the resulting discussions between artist and culinary professional.
“The issues of women are so overlooked in the culinary and art worlds,” said Tracy Krumm, the Textile Center’s director for artistic advancement.
She added, “There’s a relationship between women cooking, women providing for families, women in textiles as a domestic chore. These have always been done by women. But as soon as a wage is associated with the work, or it becomes industrialized, men have risen to the top of these areas. We really wanted the exhibition to take that power back.”
The original plan was to create 30 pieces of art. But once Bartmann and Krumm began noting possible contributors, it was clear that the project could be more expansive.
“We generated a list of over 100 artists, and 100 chefs, restaurants and food writers,” Krumm said.
Then it was a matter of pairing artists with like-minded culinary pros, while having a range of ages and accomplishments. “We wanted loud people with loud people; soft with soft,” Krumm said with a laugh. “Personalities could really drive the team. The most important factor was to give teams carte blanche to do what they wanted — as long as they promised to involve textile sensibility in some way.”
For artist Ribbens, the project, with its clear focal point, was an intriguing prospect. She and Fisher met several times, initially to look at photos of dishes that the chef had prepared. As a fiber artist, the image of the salad was the one that grabbed Ribben’s attention. Then they discussed approaches on how to handle the work from a textile perspective. She also took to heart Fisher’s commitment to sustainability. “I didn’t buy anything for the quilt, not a single thread.”
Ribbens dug deep into the colors and textures that would appeal to a diner: a slice of roasted squash, pickled beets, carrots, a nasturtium blossom, a range of lettuces, a piece of bacon, a sprig of rosemary.
“When I showed my friends the picture of my work, the friend said, ‘I could eat it.’ I wanted it to be that compelling,” Ribbens said. “Having a chance to partner like this with someone who is as passionate about what they do as I am as an artist was a gift.”
For artist Susan Leschke, her embroidered work takes its inspiration from the Instagram account of Golnaz Yamoutpour, who can be found at eatdrinkdishmpls.com. Some of the images come from Yamoutpour, others from Leschke’s own food memories or iconic food items.
“In chatting with Golnaz, she told me how she really wanted to be able to travel and didn’t have the money for it and had started to think about eating as travel. That sparked me and the great meals I had had, and not just food as travel but as a gateway to memories. I enjoyed this so much I am thinking about continuing the series.”
The exhibit offers a bit of everything, from bowls made of seaweed, wire knitting of kitchen tools or bottles, spring roll wrappers used as “fabric” and fish scales made of sequins.
The visual feast, in all its splendor, brings us back to the kitchen.