Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Hold the Gravy, Please
The art of Oakland artist, Margaret Dorfman has been a standard gift from me to my friends and family since I moved to the Bay Area. As a vegetarian, I find the significance of their creation particularly pithy on a number of levels.
After I purchased the first one, I couldn’t stop! (Badda boom!)
Margaret makes these bowls by hand from fresh vegetables that have been cured for several days, then pressed, dried and aged. She then molds the parchments into bowls that are paper thin and translucent. No chemicals are used in the process. Each bowl takes about ten days to complete, and because each bowl is hand shaped and formed, each is unique.
She calls this “Vegetable Parchment” because the texture and translucency calls to mind the skin partchments of medieval Europe.
Margaret makes the bowls from over twenty different types of vegetable that vary somewhat by season. Beat, zucchini, daikon, carrot, bok choy, bok choy greens, pineapple, purple cabbage, celery, red and yellow bell pepper and golden beet are available year-round.
Spring and summer bring additional varieties including leek, savoy, yellow and green scallop squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, snow pea and Mexican and Hawaiian papaya. Fall features yam, pumpkin, gourd and green and gold acorn squash.
To preserve their beauty, these bowls should be kept out of direct or bright sunlight and away from moisture and humidity. Like all botanicals, the natural pigments in the bowls may lighten over time.
Margaret earned degrees in Linguistics and Anthropology from U.C. Davis, then went on to gain fluency in American Sign Language and worked for many years as a sign language interpreter. She now makes her bowls full-time at her studio here in Oakland, where she lives with her husband and son.
The local farmers' markets and ethnic enclaves of Oakland provide Margaret with a great range of exotic and unusual fruits and vegetables for her work: "Chinatown provides lotus roots and bitter melon, while only a couple of miles away the mercados of East Oakland carry rare varieties of chili peppers and sapote fruit.
Like their fresh counterparts, the bowls vary with the seasons: purple Savoy in the spring, watermelon and cantaloupe in the summer, pumpkin and persimmon in the autumn, pear and citrus in the winter. "I'm always trying something new," says Margaret. "These days I'm experimenting with raddicchio and apricot."
"What delights me about creating these vegetable parchment bowls," says Margaret, "is the process of turning what is seen as ordinary and commonplace into something of beauty. The bowls allow me to re-see what I take for granted; the luminous beauty of fruits and vegetables, their jewel-like colors, and most of all their ability to surprise and enchant. As I work with the fruits and vegetables, I feel like I am not creating something new, but instead uncovering what was always there to see."
Margaret's bowls are available through Uncommon Goods.
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