To Bucks County artist Kirby Fredendall, a cookbook is more than a collection of recipes—it is a form of literature written by and for women. In Add Sugar and Stir: Cookbooks and the Lives of Women, on view in the James A. Michener Art Museum’s Pfundt Gallery from March 19 through June 26, Fredendall uses text and illustrations from actual cookbooks as the basis for complex and imaginative works of art.
The exhibit is sponsored by Mary Lou and Andrew Abruzzese, The Pineville Tavern.
From ancient pueblos to post-war America, cookbooks and the tools of cooking tell the story of the living and breathing women who owned them and the larger story of the roles women play in family and culture.
Focusing on the World War II era, Fredendall assembles images and collages that explore her response to a particular cookbook or advertising icon, sometimes burying words and photographs within layers of wax and paint. The viewer must engage in a search. Visual “openings” provide spaces through which one might travel, as if through time.
“Foremost my work is about the layering of oil paint using the resulting abstract shapes to create an experience that engages the viewer on multiple levels,” says Fredendall. “In the case of this show, I layer the abstract shapes and colors over cookbooks and booklets, ads, and other paper ephemera from the 30’s and 40’s.” From a distance the images are abstractions. Flattened panels of color lay over understructures that may or may not reveal their organic curves. Closer inspection begins to reveal images, words, colors, and handwriting that speak out from the past through layers of time and memory.
Fredendall has collected cookbooks for many years and has found them to be profoundly engaging sources of information about the women who used them –the roles these women played within their families, marriages, and in their larger historical and social surroundings. She invites us to imagine the dreams and difficulties of women from a previous era, while quietly urging us to re-imagine our own era in light of the lessons learned and insights gained from something we look at every day but rarely see—our cookbooks.
Fredendall has a Bachelor’s Degree in art history from Duke University and a Master’s Degree in art education and painting from Arcadia University. Her work has been included in more than 30 exhibitions since the mid-1990s in galleries and museums from Seattle to New York, including the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art. In the DCCA newsletter, critic Richard Huntington said of her paintings, “The lyricism is so pervasive that at times one can imagine the pigment itself soaked in some sweet nectar.”