The “Knead” to Create – Examining Baking As an Art Form

The artist’s hands knead the mixture until the tactile surface meets approval. Tools are employed to aid this process, some supple and flexible others of dense metal or wood.

Documented are the portions of powders, liquids and binding agents, commonly referred to as a recipe. Randomly applied are the adjustments in technique that account for variables in the temperature, humidity and material quality. Thoroughly engaged in this step of the operation, success is contingent upon this artist’s hands and their masterful movement. Only with precise viscosity can this preparation move on.

Once in a mold-able state, a metal template rectangle in shape is used as a form for the base. The heating station is engaged and the piece is carefully inserted, firing the assemblage and activating its phase transition. Upon removal, a lemon-based gelatin coating is circulated across the now solid substructure. The originator of this technique is undetermined, but estimations trace it within the discovery of fire making and the generation of heat.

Accordingly, the discovery that grasses and their seeds could be prepared for nourishment, naturally en-kindled experimentation with them and temperature. The marrying of heat and grain produced a byproduct of broth. This stock was roasted on embers and astonishingly the first unsoured flat bread was created, as well as the art of baking. Preparation of stable food radically changed the eating habits and lifestyle of our early ancestors, transcending us from hunters to became settlers, more specifically bakers.

Art is the awakening and connection with our senses. Visual observation is most commonly associated with a museum tour or art gallery. Often we are compelled to try and touch the pieces exhibited, seeking to satisfy yet another of our senses. Musical arts, recitals and concerts are inspired by our thirst for audible stimulation.

Ironically if our vision is impaired at such an event, an obstacle blocking the view of the performers, most in attendance would demand a refund. Performing artists intuitively understand this duplicity, creating tear evoking Operas, graceful and elegant ballets and a full spectrum of plays, whether musical, comedic or dramatic.

These sensory feasts masterfully energize our ability to see and hear simultaneously. What area of the arts appeals to our sense of smell, taste, touch and sight collectively?

Presenting – Mary Lee from Spiaggia Restaurant – A Hospitality Entrepreneur with a Heart for the Art

One restaurant I have wanted to check out for a long time is Spiaggia Trattoria (“spiaggia” is Italian for “beach) at the eastern end of the Queen Street strip. Local Beach expert Glenn Cochrane had mentioned that the owner, Mary Lee, was an interesting person and recommended that I interview her. To catch her before the busy evening hours at her establishment I met her at 5:30 and we sat down in a quiet corner at the back of the restaurant.

Mary Lee indicated that she and her husband John moved into the Beach in 1989. Before the couple moved to this neighbourhood h they used to live in an apartment at the Sutton Place Hotel. When she noticed my surprise Mary Lee explained that the 19th to the 31st floor of this famous hotel in Toronto were set aside for rent-controlled residential apartments. Even today some of the apartments are still occupied by the original tenants. I had never known that there were private apartments in the Sutton Place Hotel. You never stop learning about your own city…

Prior to becoming restaurant entrepreneurs, Mary Lee was an interior designer while her husband worked as an architect at the Bank of Montreal. Spiaggia was not their first foray into the hospitality ownership; the couple had owned restaurants in Oakville and on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. In 1990 they bought the building that the current restaurant is located in; it housed five apartments and the small Spiaggia..

Mary Lee and her husband immediately set about renovating the property and when the demolition work started, they found newspapers in the wall dating back to 1902. Throughout the entire renovation process they continued to operate the existing restaurant, and the patrons enjoyed watching the stucco work being performed on the building, right through the front windows.

Today the second floor holds a beautiful apartment – Mary Lee took me briefly upstairs and I saw a spacious apartment with an unusual layout with lots of angles and a gorgeous light-coloured decorating scheme, obviously the results of her interior design talents. She took me out on the rear balcony and mentioned that she can see all the way to Toronto’s City Hall from this location.

The couple spent three years overhauling the building and dealt with the glitches along the way. One local regulation required that they keep the old plumbing intact while they were installing the new pipes. As a result, the building today has two sets of plumbing throughout, of course only the new plumbing is being used.

Mary Lee’s real estate investment and renovation skills as well as her protective sentiments about the neighbourhood became evident when a video rental store across the street was being converted into an adult video store. Concerned about the impact on the neighbourhood, the couple bought the property and turned it into an art gallery. The adult video store relocated further west on Queen Street outside of the Beach neighbourhood.

When her husband passed away in 1998, Mary Lee closed down the art gallery since she did not have enough time to manage both businesses. A graphic design business now occupies the space. Mary Lee mentions that during the difficult time around her husband’s death her loyal restaurant customers took care of her. Their support and the higher workload she was carrying by herself now helped her get through a difficult transition period.

We started talking about Spiaggia and the unique features of this fine dining restaurant. Spiaggia is open seven days a week in the evenings from 5 to 11 pm. It has two sitting areas and the area on the north side of the building can be booked for private meetings. Often this room holds special events for up to 20 people.

The cuisine at Spiaggia includes seven different types of pasta dishes, fresh fish, seafood and veal dishes. Spiaggia is part of Eat Smart! – Ontario’s Healthy Restaurant Program, an exclusive program that awards Ontario restaurants that meet high standards in food safety, nutrition and non-smoking seating. Mary Lee added that guests are able to get customized meals that are prepared right in front of them in the open kitchen. Guests always enjoy healthy, fresh food at Spiaggia.

As we were sitting there Mary Lee told me a couple of humorous stories: in late December she got an out-of-town reservation with a credit card from a prospective restaurant patron in the US. They called a week ahead to reserve a seat for Spiaggia’s New Years Eve dinner event. Mary Lee was wondering what had happened when these customers did not show up. A few days later she got a phone call from a woman in West Virginia who said she was not able to locate Spiaggia’ on Queen Street, but was finally able to find it on Michigan Avenue – in Chicago!

Apparently she had found information about Spiaggia on the Internet and planned to have a nice New Year’s Eve dinner in Chicago, but ended up making the reservation with Spiaggia Trattoria in Toronto!

Even more humorous and unusual is the story behind Mary Lee’s espresso machine. In the 1970s she travelled to Florida with her husband in their Corvette. On the way back home John spotted an unusual object in a shop window in Fort Lauderdale. He made an immediate U-turn and went into the store to inquire about this interesting-looking item.

It turned out that the object was an espresso machine made in Italy, but the 1970’s was an era before fancy coffee concoctions. When Mary Lee’s husband inquired as to what the object was, the man simply responded in a southern drawl “it makes coffee”. John had to have the espresso machine and ended up buying it for $21,000, which 30 years ago was more money than what he had paid for the Corvette.

He simply had to buy this espresso machine, and because there wasn’t enough space in the car for both Mary Lee and the espresso maker, he dropped her off at the airport and drove home with the espresso machine strapped into the passenger seat sticking out of the roof. Mary Lee laughed and said “I am the only broad who has ever been dumped for an espresso machine”. Today the machine is still used to make coffee.

Mary Lee told me about her attachment to the Beach neighbourhood. She said she loves the area and enjoys taking walks on Queen Street or on the Boardwalk. It is a neighbourhood with a very high quality of life, one of those Toronto neighbourhoods that even have a busy street life on Sundays. She chuckled when she mentioned a popular local saying: “you can’t live in this neighbourhood unless you have a dog or a stroller.” The Beach is indeed very popular with dog owners and young families.

Unfortunately international events have had an impact on the Beach. The restaurant owners in the Beach and Toronto in general have really been affected by the slow-down of American tourism in Toronto. In 2003 Toronto was hit by the SARS crisis and more recently travel between Canada and the US has become more difficult due to passport requirements and terrorism prevention measures. Mary Lee has noticed a significant decrease in American customers over the last few years. In addition, the popularity of the Beach as an entertainment area has raised rents for many merchants which makes doing business in this neighbourhood more difficult. Mary Lee indicated that she is fortunate since she owns Spiaggia’s building.

MaryLee explained that she has about 14 full-time and part-time staff members working at Spiaggia. Her chef Jacobo Guerra is originally from Ecuador and has been in Canada since 1979. He started in the hospitality industry 16 years ago after completing a chef’s course at George Brown College. In addition to his culinary education Jacobo also has a talent for arts and took a fine art program at the Ontario College of Arts. Jacobo’s assistant Victor hails from India and came to Canada in 2001. He has been working at Spiaggia for almost three years now and says he has learned everything he knows from the expert, Jacobo.

Art is a common theme at Spiaggia: Brittany Ross works part-time as a waitress at the restaurant and she owns her own photography and web design business. (She designed the Spiagga website.) During my visit I also had a chance to sit down and chat with John Dowding, a renowned local photographer and photography teacher, who regularly participates in the Beach Studio Tour. John has an interesting event coming up in early February: a photo tour to Havana, he and I were going to arrange a one-on-one interview so I would have a chance to learn more about one of the many artists in the Beach.

John indicated that Mary Lee is an active sponsor of the Beach Studio Tour and is always available to help if the artists need something. He commented that over the years he has enjoyed a great friendship with Mary Lee and loves to come here for a good dinner.

After my interview with Mary Lee and my conversation with John Dowding I had a chance to sit down and sample some of Spiaggia’s cuisine myself. Spiaggia’s menu is extensive with many mouthwatering choices, and a prix-fix menu including a starter, a main course and a dessert, is available at the reasonable price of $25.95 .

I decided to go for the prix fix menu and had a Caesar salad to start followed by an extremely tasty “Vitello alla Balsamic” – a delicious arrangement of grilled veal, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, with a leeks balsamic Dijon sauce and garlic butter capellini on the side. I am not usually much of a meat eater, but the tender veal accompanied by an interesting array of vegetable flavours was scrumptious. My dinner partner had the Gorgonzola Carbonara and commented that it was fabulous as well. After a delicous tiramisu, my favourite Italian dessert, Mary Lee treated us to a sampling of the famous chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. All I can say I was glad I had finally made the trek down to discover Trattoria Spiaggia.

And I had a chance to meet Mary Lee, a gifted interior designer, a restaurant owner committed to serving high quality fresh and healthy food and an entrepreneur with a big heart for the arts…

Is Southwestern Landscape Art Dead?

White poster board splattered yellow and called art. In today’s ‘rat race’ maybe that is all that one wants. Look at a painting and say, I could have done that! One wonders if there is any real art works being created in today’s art world? Ever ask where is the real talent? Look at the galleries and museums of today and you see all the ‘masters’ and then their counterparts of today’s contemporary art. At art galleries you
wonder if the realism of the art world still exist in the artists of today.

Contemporary defines as, belonging to the same period of time, current, a person of the same age. Ever been told that real talent in today’s art world is gone. Or we don’t sell
southwest art? Landscape art is a thing of the past? Is the fact that the living earth is dead as well? Contemporary and Southwest art is not the same!

Art and talent should go side by side. Yet in our modern world the talent falls by the wayside. Talent gives way to the middleman. Sell a product, any product. The talent to
make and sell do not all ways go hand in hand. Thus the true artist in us all is cheated. Cheated because we cannot always view the truly realistic contemporary artists of our day.

Some of us know that in the art world realism is not dead. It is alive and well and living in the southwest. In the deserts and mesa’s of America’s southwest, and elsewhere, where some of America’s most talented artist still apply their trade. Most go over looked in today’s ‘rat race’.

The Internet is finally changing all that. It puts the artist and the promoter on an even scale. Finally in this fast pace of today’s world we can all sit and enjoy the real art world of the contemporary artist. No longer can the brick and
mortar galleries eat half the lunch that the artist took many hours creating. The online galleries of the Internet have forever changed that!

The Horrifying Beauty Behind Famous Art Gallery Pieces

Art, whether visual, performance-based, musical, or literary, both shapes and reflects the culture that surrounds its creation. Although you can learn about the surface of each work in your local art gallery, there is often a story behind the artist and the piece itself. Below is a list of some of the most horrifying (and hauntingly beautiful) secrets hidden in creative works throughout history.


In June of 2013, the curator of the Egyptian wing of the Manchester Art Museum checked the surveillance tape after complaints were filed about visitors turning a certain 3,800-year-old sculpture. The 10-inch figurine of Neb-Senu turns a full 360 degrees over the video lapse, but no one is shown touching the sculpture. The curator’s explanation? Spirits. He claims that in the figure’s 80 years with the gallery, it hasn’t moved until now!

The Nightmare

The Nightmare remains Henry Fuseli’s best known work. The painting depicts a small gremlin-like creature sitting atop a woman’s chest. The woman lies supine, covered in languid white drapery. The Anglo-Swiss artist even went so far as to create a second, creepier version with darker colors and an even more terrifying creature. Even more horrific? The fact that numerous cultures possess some myths with a creature lying on one’s chest, constricting a person’s ability to breathe during sleep. For some, it is an elderly woman or witch. For Fuseli, it seems that it was this shadow beast. Currently, the piece can be found at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Saturn, The Worst Dad Ever

From Paul Rubens to Francisco Goya, we have all seen a scarring image of Saturn devouring his son in one art gallery or another. Pulling from the dark, twisted world of Greek mythology, artists love to portray Cronus’s act of filicide. The titan believed that he would be overthrown by his children. So, instead of taking chances, he opted to eat each of his children. Luckily, Cronus’s wife was aware of his scheme and gave birth to their son Zeus in secret. Each depiction of the tale is far darker than any Disney movie would have ever been able to portray. Goya’s piece currently hangs in Museo Nacional Del Prado, but you don’t have to visit the art gallery to experience the feelings of isolation, chaos, and fear associated with the image. Many copies of the original are available across the web as well as numerous variations.

Next time you visit an art gallery, look a little closer. There may be some dark secrets or stories hidden behind the piece. For instance, artist Walter Sickert was thought to be Jack The Ripper due to his obsession with the murderer’s handiwork and depictions of intimate details of the killer’s life. Van Gogh cut off his own ear. The surrealists tapped into their innermost nightmares and set them free. Get the whole picture when you look for the story behind the art!

Touring Corning, NY – Glassworks, Gaffner’s Galleries, and Great Eats

Corning is one of western New York’s destination gems. Of course, the name, Corning, is known for dishes and glassware. The city of Corning, however, hosts not just one, but two, world-class museums. It’s also the southern gateway to the Finger Lakes Region and nearby Watkins Glen.

The Corning Museum of Glass was founded in 1950 as a testament to the history and versatility of molten silica. Spend at least a half-day browsing the exhibit halls, feasting your eyes on intricate examples of cultural glass. You will learn the history, art and science of glassmaking.

Note the size of the building. This is no small-town museum. In fact, it’s the third most popular tourist destination in the state. Glass facades rise skyward. The 120,000 square foot museum houses 3500 years of glass-making art. This is a destination worthy of your time.

Stroll into the modern art gallery from the airy lobby. Massive shapes of astounding variety resemble free-form stalagmites in an otherworldly cave. The world’s premier glass artisans created these designs: from solid mass to intricate, fragile sculptures – twining vines of glass tubing, discs and plates, odd shapes, swirled or solid colors, and multi-media art.

Explore the fascinating history of glassware from the first primitive shapes to intricate gifts for ancient royalty. See rare artifacts from before King Tut to 20th century Tiffany. Thimble-sized pots, jewelry, perfume and spice jars. Minutely detailed dollhouses, masks, and statuary. Imagine a throne of glass or a bed with a glass headboard. Glass eggs. Glass dolls. Even a Baccarat glass boat! Everything that can be shaped from clay, wood, metal or other materials have been created through the centuries in glass.

Examine the science and wonder of glass through several inter-active exhibits. Stand on a glass floor. Watch master craftsmen at work, demonstrating various ways of working with glass. Allow time to make your own souvenir: an ornament, beads, wind chimes or etched glass. The Corning Museum of Glass is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (9-8 during the summer). Before you leave, browse the Glass Market for house wares, trinkets and collectibles.

The Corning Museum has free parking, so park for the day. Hop on a (summer) shuttle bus to the Gaffner District. This historic area along Market Street features artsy galleries, specialty shops, and eateries. Create your own pottery at the Earth Paint and Fire Studio. Look for a painting for your living room or den at the West End Gallery or Oil Paintings of Interest, both galleries are nearby. If you love antiques, browse Twin Tiers Antiques Plaza on Market Street or head for Antique Revival, just outside of town.

The Gaffner District is also home to the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, billed as “The Best of the West in the East”. Explore our American West through paintings, artifacts and special exhibits. From Ansel Adams to Indian art, the museum showcases some of the finest western art anywhere. Exhibits change periodically. The museum is not associated with Norman Rockwell, although one of his paintings is on display. Museum hours are the same as the Corning Museum of Glass. A combination Admission Ticket is a good bargain if you plan to tour both places.

When you get hungry, sample the Gaffner Grill and Tap Room for succulent Angus steaks or barbecued ribs. If you’re in the mood for Italian, stop at Sorge’s, a 50-year tradition on Market Street. In addition to mouth-watering Italian specialties, Sorge’s is also a Guinness World Record Holder for the world’s longest noodle (418 feet in 2003!). For five-star fine dining, make a reservation at the Three Birds Restaurant. Menu selections include elegantly named, exquisitely prepared seafood and regional specialties.

If you’ve more than a day to spend in the area, visit the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society’s Benjamin Patterson Inn Museum on Pulteney Street. The Inn, originally known as the Painted Post Tavern, was built in 1796. It has been restored, along with a log cabin, blacksmith’s shop, schoolhouse and other historical structures. The original Painted Post Rail Depot (c. 1881) has also been restored. A combined tour ticket includes lunch at Sorge’s Restaurant and a discount shopping booklet. Contact the Patterson Inn Museum

Other notable area attractions include Watkins Glen, the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center, and numerous winery tours. The Discovery Center (near Elmira-Corning Regional Airport) hosts an airpower museum with more than 30 aircraft. With reservations, you can soar the skies in a vintage airplane.

Watkins Glen is known for the road-race track. It hosts several SCCA and other races each year. Watkins Glen State Park boasts some of the most beautiful scenery, hiking trails and camping in America. Cascading waterfalls (19 of them) drop the stream almost 400 feet along the two-mile trail. Bring a swimming suit for the outdoor pool and hiking shoes for exploring the trails or the rim of the canyon. If you love to fish, bring a pole! Seneca Lake and area streams are famous for excellent fishing.

For a leisurely stay, consider a historic Bed and Breakfast. Hillcrest Manor, a restored 1890’s mansion, is within walking distance of downtown. The Rufus Tanner House, located outside of town, is an 1864 Greek Revival farmhouse with in-room fireplaces, beautiful gardens and an outdoor hot tub (always our favorite way to end a day).

Of course, traditional hotels are available as well. The Radisson Hotel Corning is located in the historic district. Settle in, soak your aches away in the Jacuzzi spa, and then snuggle in on a Sleep Number bed while you dream of the bargains you’ll find tomorrow! For ‘suite’ accommodations, try Staybridge Suites – within walking distance of the historic district and Corning Museum of Glass. Staybridge offers a complimentary breakfast. Other hotels include Comfort Inn, Days Inn and Fairfield. Camping sites also abound.

The city of Corning (current pop. 10,478) was settled in 1788. Timber and farming built the community. It was formally incorporated in 1848 as a ‘village’. The canal system (Erie Canal and its tributaries) helped develop the area by providing transport for timber, coal and other goods. Twenty years later, shipments of Pennsylvania coal supplied fuel for a developing glass industry. Corning became a city by 1890. Today the company that has become synonymous with the city, Corning Inc, is one of America’s Fortune 500 companies.

If you’re within driving distance – or even if you’re not – Corning NY is a worthy destination. Located just off I-86, it’s easily accessible and eminently enjoyable. Go for a day trip, a mini-vacation, or an extended stay.