edible art

CELEBRATING YOUTH

Local artist presents paintings of children’s lives enhanced by healthy foods.

WRITTEN AND ARTWORK BY ALANNA MCDANIEL

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This is that magical time of year, when children of any age revel in earth’s sumptuous hues, hallowed bounties, and splendorous pageantry. Wonderment seems to weave through each fresh autumn breeze. We celebrate the season between the heat and frost with all our senses. Both life and death whisper to us to celebrate before it is too late, enjoy this life when we are young, and savor it when we are old.

As an art teacher, a painter of children, and a mother, this is my favorite time of year. With a birthday shy of Halloween day, for me, celebrating life is about scary apparitions, lavish costumes, mysterious faces, delicious treats, cornucopias, sunflowers, and twinkling lights in a darkening sky. During my time teaching art in Southern California, a favorite art project of mine was the making of strange hats with papier-mâché, paint, and a myriad of plastic vegetation and found materials. I witnessed a freedom and joy in the students I had never seen before; each headdress was a beautiful sight. It was initially from this experience that I was inspired to paint children.

I have an ongoing collection of more than 200 paintings of children meant to represent every country/culture. Teaching art has taught me that culture, especially food and recipes, helps to create a rich and exciting world. And as a mother, I know that eating well is the first way to develop a healthy body, mind, and self-esteem. This is why so much of my work features images of children and food.

So when the owners of JJ’s Mexican Food in Gardnerville contacted me about using my paintings to decorate their walls, I was honored and used the opportunity to incorporate Hispanic influences into my existing paintings of children and food. The results are the paintings shown here.

I wish to promote an exploration of self in my paintings. Children find the greatest joy in pretending, decorating, expanding, and dramatizing their senses of self. Adults do, too. Giuseppe Arcimboldo is a little-known Mannerist artist of the 16th century who creatively illustrated the beauty of human decoration, the seasons of life, how we are an intricate part of nature, how we are symbolically and literally entwined with what we eat. His portraits are spooky and an inspiration to me in my work.

The Halloween holiday and the Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday elevate us from daily concerns to an otherworldly place. How lovely it is to be superhuman for a day or two, to feel our youth and honor our loved ones. Whether religious or secular, this time of year has precious meaning that extends beyond the masquerade and offerings of beauteous food. Universally, we take pause to honor life’s greatest of mysteries — death and what’s beyond — and we are thankful for what life has provided to us.

Alanna McDaniel earned her teaching credential, early childhood education certification, and B.A. in art history from California State University, Northridge. Currently, her paintings hang in two California veterinary clinics, and her paintings of children are hanging in various California restaurants, clothing stores, Millennium Salons, and JJ’s Mexican Food in Gardnerville, Nev. She teaches art lessons privately and through her studio, Art For Life Art Studios, in Northern California and Gardnerville.

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