As the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art’s registrar, Jacqueline Falco immerses herself in artwork seldom seen, stored safely beneath the space where museum patrons stroll.
The images stay with her. A stoneware teacup by Clary Illian. Two wooden eggs nesting in blue and gold mesh by Chunghi Choo. A multicolored ribbon vase by Richard Hornby.
Inspired by their shapes and colors, Falco, 36, creates an edible homage each month in her North Liberty kitchen. After trial and error, she photographs her success stories and posts them on the first Thursday on the museum’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
Her kids get to gobble the goods.
As registrar, a position she’s held for nearly eight years, she maintains the collection and makes sure the 8,000-plus pieces are kept in good condition for as long as possible, she said. She checks the temperature and humidity in the galleries and in storage, and keeps track of the pieces in a database, noting when and where they go on exhibition in the museum or out on loan, making sure they get to their destinations safely.
“I spend so much time with the collection in storage and in the galleries,” she said. “It’s hard to be surrounded by the artwork and not feel inspired by it and want to create something of your own.”
So when she whipped up some art-inspired sugar cookies for a staff potluck last December, Executive Director Sean Ulmer ate up the idea. That sparked a conversation to do something similar, based on pieces held in the museum, and Falco posted her first “Collection Confection” in February.
That first one was an almond, vanilla slice cookie inspired by Ely potter Clary Illian’s stoneware teacup.
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“When I was thinking about the project and had some time to go through and think about it, that one just stood out to me first,” Falco said. “It just really looked like a cookie to me.
“I felt strongly about that one. I liked the connection, because when I started at the museum, my very first exhibition that I helped with and learned the ropes on was a Clary Illian exhibition. So I think it was kind of nice that I started this project with this one. It didn’t happen on purpose — I just realized it later.”
Even when the projects prove challenging — like the time she made 12 truffles before she had one suitable for posting, or a gold sugar nest that broke three times when attempting to remove it from her ladle — she still has fun.
“Cooking and baking has always been a hobby of mine,” she said. “I get lost on social media, watching cooking videos in my free time. A lot of these techniques were things I saw, (and thought) ‘I should try that.’
“It’s like this relationship with seeing the pieces in the collection, and then thinking of something I saw in a video or read in a cookbook, and it pops out that way.”
Her confections aren’t the result of ruminating on the artists or the pieces in the museum collection or what’s in the galleries.
“As I’m walking through work one day, I will see a piece, and be like, ‘Oh my gosh! That reminds me of that cooking video I saw,’ and that’s how I pick them,” she said.
“I do this in my free time. I just make whatever piece I want. There’s no rules to it. Sean just said anything in our collection, you can make. Sometimes I do a couple a month, and post once a month, so we’ve got a couple that are ready to go. That way, I’m not feeling stressed out ahead of time. I just do it when I have free time. It’s fun for me anyway.”
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She hopes other people will be inspired to create their own artistic confections, based on a favorite artwork or a piece they see when visiting the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
The project can easily become a family affair or spark myriad teachable moments for students being schooled at home during the pandemic — using typical baking ingredients and food coloring, or even branching out into produce productions.
And don’t worry if the final culinary creation isn’t your personal Picasso, mini Monet or jumbled Jackson Pollock.
“The confections never have to be a replica — they can be inspired by,” Falco stressed, noting that her final products look similar to their inspiration piece, “but they don’t have to be exact replicas.”
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