To artist Kirby Fredendall, a cookbook is more than a collection of recipes—it’s also a form of literature written by and for women that says much about the everyday lives of women throughout the centuries. ‘I have a photograph of my hands resting in a work-smoothed, limestone bowl near a Pueblo Indian cliff dwelling,’ says Fredendall. ‘I remember crouching there, wondering whather hands looked like—the hands that ground the corn in that bowl, day after day, to make tortillas for her family.’ Fredendall’s cookbook collection includes an 1882 volume entitledOur Home Favorite, owned by Miss Edith Mills of Saratoga Springs, New York. ‘I have held its covers, thick with kitchen dirt, and wondered if Edith ever tried the lemon pie recipe.’ An equally worn 1945 version of The Joy of Cooking owned by one Sarah Marshall also has a lemon pie recipe, and both books call for lemon, sugar, water, flour, eggs, and cornstarch.
From ancient pueblos to post-war America, cookbooks and the tools of cooking tell the story of women’s lives, both the living and breathing women who owned them and the larger story of the roles women play in family and culture. The pictures and objects in this exhibition use text and illustrations from actual cookbooks as the source material for complex and imaginative works of art. Focusing especially on the World War II era, Fredendall assembles images and collages that explore her response to a particular cookbook or advertising icon, sometimes burying words and photographs within layers of wax and paint. ‘The viewer must engage in a search,’ she says. ‘Visual ‘openings’ provide spaces through which one might travel, as if through time.’ Fredendall thus invites us to imagine the dreams and difficulties of women from a previous era (was cooking always a joy?), while quietly urging us to re-imagine our own era in light of the lessons learned and insights gained from something we look at every day but rarely see—our cookbooks.
Bucks County artist Kirby Fredendall has a Bachelor’s Degree in art history from Duke University and a Master’s Degree in art education and painting from Arcadia University. Her work has been included in more than 30 exhibitions since the mid-1990s in galleries and museums from Seattle to New York, including the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art (DCCA). In the DCCA newsletter, critic Richard Huntington said of her paintings, ‘The lyricism is so pervasive that at times one can imagine the pigment itself soaked in some sweet nectar.’