Bread sculptures (1999-2000)

Bread house, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

During the Fall semester of 1999 I submitted this house sculpture made entirely out of bread for a critique and an exhibit of student work. It garnered high praise in the critique for its quiet, yet subversive quality, especially since I was a glass student and this had nothing to do with glass. To create it, I commissioned a metal sculptor to create a sturdy steel mold for this piece, so I could reproduce it at will. It takes about 3 lbs of bread dough (or about 3 times the size of a normal loaf). I showed the sculpture on a pedestal made of old bricks (context!) and allowed the bread to slowly mold and decay during the run of the show. It was like a slow performance (this photo was taken early in the run). By the end of the exhibit, the house had begun to warp in on itself as it dried out, and was consumed by mold on the inside.

Bolstered by the positive response, I became obsessed during the winter break with bread making. I made hundreds of loaves of all kinds. I’d never baked before, but I taught myself how, and I baked most of the bread in annealing ovens in the glass shop, or in the large gas kilns in the ceramics studio.

I even tried making life-size bread chairs. For my first go at it, I fabricated a steel mold of a life sized three-dimensional chair. I kneaded about 50 pounds of bread dough using the clay mixer in the ceramics department, and loaded my chair into the large gas kiln. Everyone around kept following the scent of fresh bread baking into the kiln room. I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process. Unfortunately, that first chair was a complete failure. When I got it back to my studio after it was baked, and unmolded it, it was so heavy that it couldn’t stand its own weight and collapsed within a minute or two. It was such a challenge just to knead all that dough, and load the mold into the kiln I decided a different approach was kneaded (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun).

My next try was more successful. I found two old diner chairs in the dumpster, and stripped all the upholstery and padding away. After a few modifications, I was able to “upholster” the two chairs with bread dough. I loaded them into the glass annealing ovens this time (better control over temperature than the gas fired ceramics kiln) and baked them. Although the weight of the dough pulled the back off of one, it actually is more interesting because it lets the viewer see how they are made.

Bread Chairs, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

These pieces too were well received in critiques, and I decided to focus on my theme of “subverted domesticity” for my final semester in graduate school. Although I did abandon bread for the final exhibits, I did enjoy doing it and learned a lot during the process. And of course, I am still an avid baker at home today, but I usually eat the results now.

Slice (1999)

Slice, © 1999 J. Thomson All rights reserved

Having just returned to the United States after a year’s absence, and then re-uniting with my partner and relocating to Philadelphia, I was in a mood to settle down. I started exploring issues of domestic life, and this is the first indication of something I would explore for years. This drawing of a slice of bread represents home and comfort, as well as the banality of everyday life.

I went on to make cast glass sculptures of bread slices from molds I carefully made, (unfortunately, I only have slides of these, and no way to scan them). But this process was too time consuming for my busy schedule. Not only did I have to spend hours and hours making the original sculpture out of clay or wax and creating the mold from that, but I also had to anneal the glass slowly in a kiln over a period of days or weeks. Finally, I would have to spend hours cold working the glass to grind and polish away any imperfections.

So I invented a new more immediate technique. I made a mold of an oversized slice of bread out of a thick piece of wood, which I kept soaking in water. Then I could pour hot molten glass into it, and have them out of the annealing oven in two days. I made hundreds of slices of bread this way, and showed them in various configurations in the gallery for exhibits and critiques. I even sold a few at a gallery in Chelsea in New York City. I still have many of these slices packed away, and they can be purchased relatively cheaply too. Just drop me a line if you’re interested.

I also explored using bread in other ways, including as a sculptural medium itself.

 

Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

Loaves of fresh-baked whole wheat bread

Continue reading