Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time Line

Two weeks ago I got the mother-of-all complements: A freshman in college at DePauw University in Indiana had to do a project on an artist for her Arts & Ethics class. This included working in the style of the artist and also creating a Power Point presentation to share the artist's work with the class. She chose me! I was very flattered, and I practically fell over myself trying to help her out. She asked me to describe my career as an artist, which is a more complicated task than you might expect. I came up with a timeline, and I think it's amusing enough to share on my blog. Here 'tis:

Zilly Rosen’s Timeline of Artistic-Endeavors-and-Seemingly-Unrelated-Experiences-That–Have-All-Come-Together-in-the-End (or at least by 2008):

Birth: I was born on October 10, 1967 in Evanston, Illinois as Elizabeth Ann Frazier.

1 year old: My parents nick-named me Whizbang and simultaneously fed me lots of sugar, establishing my sweet tooth before I even had teeth. My mom says I have and have always had two speeds: fast and off.

2 years old: My mom quickly figured out that she could keep me quiet if she gave me paint and paper. She liked dressing me in an artist beret and smock!

3 years old: My parents took me to many art shows, live performances of dance and music, and always encouraged me to be creative. They encouraged my self-driven projects at home, and they always supplied me with new materials. This continued throughout my entire life, to this day.

5 years old: In Brownies, I made my caterpillar from egg cartons upside down, so that mine would be different. The troop leader knew she had an artist on her hands.

8 years old: I wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas, and I didn’t get it. This was a very formative experience (see me at 15 years old)

11 years old: I asked for a subscription to Architectural Digest for Christmas. This time I got what I asked for. I also got nick-named “Zilly” by one of my new friends in 6th grade. The name stuck.

12 years old: I got a spot in the “Gifted in Art” after school program at my middle school, and I spent every afternoon after school making stuff for three years, and continued that practice into high school. There isn’t a single art medium that doesn’t interest me.

15 years old: I got a job as “cookie girl” at Ganache Bakery in Evanston, IL. Finally my grudge about not getting an easy bake oven was put to rest. I worked at Ganache for 8 Christmases in a row.

16 years old: I got a job teaching “arts and crafts” at a local summer camp. I continued to teach art at different summer camps for the next 16 years.

17 years old: I received the Conway Scholarship to study art at Washington University in St. Louis. I went in as a metalsmithing major and I came out 5 years later as a printmaking major. (I took 1 semester off to work at Ganache Bakery full-time).

22 years old: I got a job developing the curriculum and teaching the art program for 7th and 8th grade art at Whitfield School in St. Louis. I worked there for 3 years.

25 years old: I took two years off and moved back to Chicago to live with my parents. During that time, I traveled to Alaska by myself, worked as a studio assistant for a potter, worked at Ganache Bakery again, worked as a barista at a coffee shop, and took a 2 month workshop in handpainted quilts at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. I also payed rent on an art studio that I never made anything in; I was too busy doing all of the above.

27 years old: I moved back to St. Louis to be a live in nanny for my friends who had their first baby. I also became a triathelete and opened another studio that I didn’t make anything in, though I organized successful sales of other artist’s work.

28 years old: I applied to Washington University for a Masters of Art in Teaching in Art Education K-12. I got in with a full scholarship, but deferred for a year to take a teaching job and make some money.

29 years old: I started dating Lee Rosen, the man who I would eventually marry. I took a trip to Guatemala with my sister and got shot through the throat by bandits. I spent the next two years speaking in a whisper and having 6 surgeries on my larynx that attempted to restore my voice.

30 years old: I started working on my MAT in Art Education, part time, as I recovered from surgeries. I also took a job at my second gourmet bakery, Truffes in St. Louis. The art community in St. Louis threw me a benefit art sale and party that raised $20,000 for my surgeries!

31 years old: I did my student teaching at an Elementary School. I still had no voice, but the kids didn’t really seem to care. It was just extremely tiring.

32 years old: I got offered a job teaching art at a private Catholic girl’s high school, Villa Duchesne. They hired me to teach design, fine crafts, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics. They didn’t care that I didn’t have a voice, and that I hadn’t quite finished my MAT. I was just a couple of papers away, so I took incompletes and took the job at Villa. I never did finish those papers!

33 years old: I got married, and change my name from Elizabeth Ann Frazier to Zilly Frazier Rosen. I also recovered some voice, so that I no longer spoke in a whisper.

34 years old: I had my first child, Eliza Mae Rosen, and dropped from full-time teaching to part-time teaching.

35 years old: My husband took a job in Buffalo, New York, and I had to quit my job and move my family away from St. Louis where I had lived for 18 years. We moved into the house where MTV filmed “Sorority Life.”

36 years old: I was a stay-at-home mom for the first time, and I stayed at home for four years. During that time I became active at the Unitarian Universalist church. Every summer for five years and counting I have written a sermon and lead a worship service during the summers when the minister is on vacation.

37 years old: I had my second child, William Myers Rosen. He weighed over 10 pounds, and broke my rib 3 days before I went into labor. I did not have a c-section, much to the amazement of just about everybody.

38 years old: I was a stay-at-home mom for my fourth and final year.

39 years old: I took a part-time job at my third gourmet bakery, Dolci in Buffalo, NY. I started working on cookies and tarts, but they eventually gave me a shot at doing the cakes. I took a few Wilton workshops at Michael’s and then started doing weddings immediately.

40 years old: I took over wedding cakes at Dolci and tripled their business in one year. I decided to start my own design business and cake school using Dolci as my bakers. I launched my website http://www.zillycakes.com/ in February, 2008, and I incorporated as Zillycakes LLC on May 22, 2008.

41 years old: Before my storefront was even open, I did a 1200+ cupcake installation of Barack Obama on Election Day. It got national attention on TV and in newspapers, and I now find myself in the incredible position of being in negotiations with the Smithsonian Institute and The Late Show with David Letterman for two separate cupcake portrait installations in 2009! My next project will be a 5,600 cupcake installation at the Smithsonian Institute on February 14, 2009 for President’s Day weekend. It’s a dual portrait of Obama and Lincoln. I still have to do a video audition for Letterman, which I will submit at the beginning of the year. I won’t have a date for that installation until after I submit my video!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Smithsonian!

It's hard to believe, but there is a good chance my art will be in a major American museum. For less than 24 hours, but still it will be there, nonetheless! It's an ironic story. Years ago I might have loved to be in a museum, but I could never settle on a medium. I could never get a body of work done in a studio, because I crave interaction. My creative spirit seems to need the energy of others to awaken it, and the times when I tried to be a solitary studio artist never amounted to much. I was more successful as an art teacher, though I had to live vicariously through my students and their creations. I created the environment and the lessons for them, but I was left out of the art-making, for the most part.

Now my baking, that is another story. Perhaps because it is divorced from the traditional "art materials," creating my cookies (and now my cakes) never felt connected to that other story. I enjoyed it as a craft, I enjoyed the work environment of a bakery, and I enjoyed the enjoyment my baked products gave others! I found satisfaction in it partly as a meditation and partly as a design problem. I'm not self-taught, but I'm not formally taught by a culinary institute, either. My experience has come on the job over a span of 25 years: it began with Ganache in Evanston, IL owned by Jane Davis; followed by Truffes in St. Louis, MO owned by Helen Fletcher; and finally concluding with Dolci in Buffalo, NY partially owned and fully operated (at the time) by Kevin and Melissa Gardner.

I started at Ganache as a "cookie girl" when I was 15 years old, and I continued to work there seasonally for over 8 years. At Truffes, in the months before graduate school, I also made cookies, though I yearned to have a shot as the "cake lady" someday. My chance finally came at Dolci, where I took a job as soon as my youngest child was 18 months old and eligible for daycare at the JCC. After a few months there making cookies, I was given the opportunity to decorate cakes and then to take over the wedding cake "department." The wedding business tripled in my first year, and I began to have the feeling that I was quickly discovering what I wanted to be when I grew up.

After my first year of weddings, I began to make plans to brand my own name and open my own cake design studio. I'm currently about 3 to 4 months away from my grand opening, if all goes as planned. In deciding to be a cake designer and a business owner, I felt I was putting to rest any old desire to be a "gallery artist." Everything I needed personally and artistically was present in the cake business: the interaction, the creative planning, the craftsmanship of a finished product, the collaboration with the bakers and the brides. It used my entire skill set, and I felt for the first time in a long time like my creative juices were really flowing. I was building a portfolio.

The fact that my crazy Obama cupcake project garnered national attention was wonderful! It felt like a lark, a delight, a crazy woman's epic love poem in food to someone who moves her and inspires her. Through the interest in the project that followed, I began to be more aware of the way the medium itself spoke as much as the image. Cupcakes. In the hierarchy of art materials, where fiber is low and metal and glass are high, where oil is better than acrylic, and where representational work battles it out with conceptual work, where do cupcakes fall? A medium that can be bought at any grocery store and mastered by anyone with an oven and a wooden spoon. A medium that is intrinsically American, and chock-full of emotional connotations. A medium that requires audience participation, that pulls you in and then leaves the gallery as a part of you. A medium that is ephemeral in nature, existing briefly as an installation, but enduring in the memory of those who partook of it.

Is it an image? An installation? A performance? To me, it's a process, and the conception of it came about as much from my love of domestic arts and decorative arts as it did from studying gallery artists. I have always been moved by the beautiful work women have done and still do to make their chores joyful and their daily grind more beautiful. Stitching and baking and making objects for use are acts I hold in high esteem. So this new art of mine comes as much from that reverence as from seeds planted by artists who inspired my in art school. The grid on which I base my installations belongs to the weaver and the beader and the needlepointer as much as to Chuck Close, Jennifer Bartlett , and Sol Lewitt (all of whom have been influential in my work, too).

So, on the eve of the opening of my cake design studio "Zillycakes," I find myself in the crazy position of having been asked by the Smithsonian for a formal proposal regarding the piece I briefly proposed to them in an email, while still in my post-election euphoria. It will be a diptych of Obama and Lincoln, in honor of the theme of the Inauguration, "A New Birth of Freedom," which is a line taken from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. They have asked to have the piece installed on President's Day weekend, when they stage one of their biggest community outreach programs. "It will get better attendance and better press that weekend," they explained. All I could think was how much easier and cheaper it would be to get a hotel room! If the proposal is accepted, I'll install it on Friday, Feb. 13 ( with a black cat and a salt shaker present), and then it will be on display on Saturday Feb. 14. A very sweet valentine's day for me, indeed.

In one week the proposal is due. I expect to have a response from them quickly, as they seem quite excited by this collaboration. And me? Excited? Over the moon. And just a little, teeny bit vindicated...thinking about all those folks in art school who gave me a hard time over making "feel good" art so many years ago...what would they say about this? I can only imagine!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Facebook Vortex...

Good God! I'm really on a roll, here. I started this blog, then opened a Facebook account. Somehow 10 hours just passed without my even realizing it. The kids are faint from hunger, the dog needs to be let out...wait, I don't have a dog.

I already found some favorite students from Villa in St. Louis and some old friend from Junior High and High School in Evanston. Disclaimer: I am still a really shitty long-distance friend, no matter how many internet links I have! I'm thinking of sending a message to all my old St. Louis friends asking for Amnesty...do you think they would grant it to me?

So, if you find this, and you are on Facebook, link me in (Zilly Frazier Rosen) and we'll stay in virtual touch. Tomorrow it's back to the real world...I've got a business plan to finish and a loan to secure!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hello from Zilly

Well, I've done it, I've decided to blog. It took seeing a photo of my work go international, mostly due to bloggers, to convince me it was time.

I've named my blog Zillycake's Meditations, because most of the creative work I do is a meditation of sorts for me. That is why I always feel calmer and more at peace when I'm working on a cake or cookie project.

So, stay tuned for lots of pictures, stories, and musings about starting a new small business and trying to be creative and organized at the same time!

Constructive and/or positive comments are welcome but if you are cynical or sarcastic by nature find someone else's rainbow to piss on. Thanks.