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Food For Thought

Somewhere between the wine and warm flapjacks, sensuous chocolates and crisp green pears, Kedryn Evans had a problem on her hands.

“Should I vote by what I like,” she wondered aloud, “or what I like to eat?”

If an art exhibit ever worked up an appetite, this was it. On a recent Fourth Friday, the intimate gallery in downtown Fayetteville was full to bursting with paintings of food. They say that cooking is the oldest art, and at Olde Town Gallery, the two collided in one giant feast. The crowd drooled over fresh figs, artichokes and strawberries, not to mention the real food, a special demonstration by fondue diva Nubian Farley. The names alone conjured memories – “Visions of Lemon Pie” for the tang of grandma’s meringue and the taste of summer’s first fruit with “Berry Licious.”

With art, presence is required, impossible to fully experience without taking in color, texture and shape. And so it is with food. It has always been a popular subject among painters. For all of our differences, food is a common denominator. And for another thing, says artist Sherry Young, “It sits still.”

Young is one of three women behind Olde Town Gallery. The partners – Allana Goodyear, Sandie McFarlane and Young – brought back “A Taste for Art” by popular demand. Artist Bob Wray judged this year’s entries and, on the night of the show’s opening, visitors were invited to vote for their favorites. Rose Kennedy took first place for “Marinara,” a lush oil of wine and tomatoes. Kathy Flood captured second place for her watercolor, “Bowl of Sunshine.” Third place went to a yummy combination of asparagus and other ingredients to make the perfect “Quiche.” Honorable mentions were awarded to: Rose-Ann SanMartino for “Three in a Row,” Kathy Jean Moore for her wire sculpture “Pepper” and “Hot Cakes” by Merle Prewitt.

And there were other favorites including Rozlyn Masley’s sassy two-part series, “Overfishing.” The first, “Overfishing: The Problem,” was followed up by the sly “Solution.” A fisherwoman taking the easy way out uses electrical shock to catch her prey, but she soon gets her comeuppance: a giant sea serpent.

“You eat my buddies,” Masley said with a husky laugh, “and I’m coming for you.”

The funny thing about the top three finishers?

They don’t really like to paint food. Rose Kennedy specializes in beautiful landscapes, scenes she sometimes first captures with a camera from the back of her husband’s Harley-Davidson. When I caught up with Anita Allen at Cape Fear Studios, she was standing in front of a vivid painting of a blooming bromeliad. And Flood is earning a reputation as a talented portrait artist.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t like to eat. Flood comes from strong Italian stock, and food, she says, “It’s huge.”

I found Flood in the guest room of her home in King’s Grant, studying a portrait of a Marine and his wife, waiting to be unveiled that very afternoon at his retirement ceremony. It was a surprise that Flood had been working on for weeks, and now she examined it for the finishing touches. This is her passion. “To me, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” she said about painting portraits. “You have to see things in a different way.”

So it was a whim that put brush to canvas for “A Taste for Art.” The end result is a painting of oranges in a blue-and-white bowl so refreshing you can practically taste the fresh-squeezed juice.

Flood did it on the fly – she didn’t even have time to snap a photo before she took it to Olde Town. If she wanted one for her files, she’d have to trek downtown to get a look at her own painting.

“Marinara” came to Rose Kennedy in her kitchen – no prior planning, no photos, just tomatoes and basil from her own garden and her husband’s borrowed blue shirt for a backdrop. She even abandoned her usual medium – watercolor – for oil. The Kennedys farm in Gray’s Creek, and it’s the rural scenery that usually inspires her paintings.

On a recent morning at Cape Fear Studios, Kennedy dabbed paint on a scene of hay bales. The artists’ cooperative downtown was hopping. Kennedy worked in the stall she shares with another artist. Down the hall, students enrolled in a class through Fayetteville Technical Community College set up easels in every nook and cranny. Anita Allen was one of them. Allen, a retired teacher herself, is something of a permanent student. After raising six children and teaching 40 years, Allen is now a prolific artist. She entered not one, but four paintings in “A Taste for Art.” Allen has a simple explanation: “I love painting.” But don’t ask her how much time she spends on a single piece; people ask her all the time. And she has an answer: “Not quite a lifetime.”