At first glance, textile arts and food might not seem like an obvious pairing. Dig a little deeper, and the connections quickly begin to reveal themselves.
They both require a combination of technical skill and artistry. A tapestry weaver needs to have an understanding of a loom and the methods for weaving before bringing a creative eye to her work, much like a chef must know how to create a basic sauce, before experimenting with new ingredient to make the recipe her own.
They are both industries where women’s work has gone undervalued. Textile arts were for so long under the domain of women, categorized as “domestic arts,” thereby becoming largely invisible in the male-dominated art world. Not given the honor that they deserve, textile artists having to fight to defend their craft as valuable. Food is similar. Women produce more than 50% of the food grown worldwide, and they are largely responsible for putting food on the table in households around the world. In U.S. kitchens alone, women spend more than twice as much time preparing food and drink as their male counterparts. And yet in the elite world of chefs, women are largely left out.
Using these crossovers as inspiration, the Textile Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota put together an innovative show called Artists in the Kitchen, devoted to the pairing of textiles and food. Featuring the work of 50 artists, each paired with one of 50 chefs/restaurateurs, Artists in the Kitchen premiered in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) national conference, Women Speak: Curating the Future of Food in April. The result is a show that highlights the work of women in two separate, yet still linked, fields and the importance of thinking beyond our own industries.
“Really the only prompt was to get together, have a conversation about their careers as creatives in food or art, talk about the similarities and differences. The conversations really guided the projects,” says Tracy Krumm, Director of Artistic Advancement at the Textile Center. “Some of the younger women had just had children, so their conversations veered away from food and went to family, division or labor, that kind of the thing… the work came back to something that had to do with some creative practice related to food, but they all got there in a very different way.”
Karen Gustafson, whose work is featured in the first photo, was paired with Jenny Ellenbecker of Round Lake Vineyards and Winery. “Jenny and I met over tea to discuss her work as a vintner and owner of Round Lake Vineyards and Winery. Through our conversation, I became engaged with the various growth stages of grapes within a season,” writes Gustafson on her website. “I was inspired to further investigate and understand a grapevine’s cycle. The free-motion embroidered drawing created for Artists in the Kitchen captures and highlights select seasonal changes of grapevines including winter dormancy, to spring budburst, to summer fruit set, and fall harvest.”
That pull to the land through food could be seen in other collaborations. Kelly McManus of Dumpling and Strand teamed up with artist Sophia Heymans to create Brittle Earth, inspired by McManus’ use of kernza that she uses to make noodles. From Heyman’s statement: “Kernza has many environmental benefits, such as preventing runoff, reducing erosion, and holding nutrients in the soil. I wanted to make a piece that emphasized the importance of sustainable agriculture and the vulnerability of the land. I made a temporary, fragile and semi-transparent landscape with a wide range of materials to illustrate the various gifts that the land provides if we choose to nurture it rather than deplete it.”
Another team took a sustainability angle as well. Artist Maddie Bartsch, who is the director of the Three Rivers Fibershed, was paired with Jodi Ohlsen Read, Shepherd’s Way Farms. “Working with Jodi gave me a glimpse into the journey that brought her to cheese making. Hers is a story of interconnectedness to the soil, her sheep, the milk they produce and the cheese that Jodi crafts for customers. The ripple effect Jodi takes into account when making food for others is clear in the care she gives to the earth, her creatures, and the people around her, celebrating our connectedness and beckoning us to write our own unique stories,” says Bartsch.
The show became a perfect way to highlight work that so often is undervalued. “The Textile Center is about women’s work,” says Krumm. “As soon as profitability enters the picture it leaves the domain of women and enters the domain of men… one of the ideas of the show was to take that back.”
Krumm points out that when it comes to head chefs, the percentage of women is “phenomenally low,” paralleling the numbers of women in large scale art exhibitions and institutions. This has inspired the work of activists like Guerilla Girls to challenge the cultural norms (like with their excellent piece “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist”).
“Who is the majority of students in art programs?” asks Krumm. “It’s women.” The same goes for culinary programs, where there is usually an even spread of men and women, and in 2017, there were actually more women enrolled at the Culinary Institute than men. Yet the closer one gets to the top of these industries, the smaller the percentage of women gets. “The glass ceiling is everywhere,” says Krumm.
With that reality in mind, the goal of this show was “really just drawing attention to the talents of women,” says Krumm. And when women come together to inspire one another, the result can be powerful. “The most surprising part of working with our artist was the similarities in the brainstorming, highly creative, and intuitive process. Also, the challenges in both industries as women coming forward into leadership roles. Being on this team has been a mind-bending experience—colorful, and thought-provoking, and we are struck by the sheer strength, boldness and power of a woman artist,” says Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack, who was paired with artist Caitlin Karolczak.
This type of cross-industry collaboration sparks a meaningful conversation, and connection.
“You challenge people to think beyond their own industries,” says Krumm. “In the end, you grow but it’s often from a feeling of similarity… you start by talking about the difference and in the end you talk about the similarities.”
And from those similarities come growth, a reminder that as we look for sustainable solutions to better respect our land and better respect each other, it’s worth our time to go beyond our own industries, making the connections to the people/things/ideas that maybe aren’t so apparent.
As Krumm puts it, “meaningful challenges bond people together.” And what better way to make change than together?
The Artists in the Kitchen show runs through May 19, 2018. Check out the full list of artists and chef/restaurateurs on the Textile Center website.
Karen Gustafson, 2018
Jenny Ellenbecker, Round Lake Vineyards
Free-motion embroidered drawing
Steel, copper, silver, bronze, found objects, patina, pigments, resin
Nalini Mehta, Route to India
Eating Is Like Travel, 2018
Eat.Drink.Dish, Golnaz Yamoutpour