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A Presidential Portrait In Pastry

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A Presidential Portrait In Pastry


A Presidential Portrait In Pastry

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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At this very moment, hundreds of people are digesting a couple of other classic images literally. Today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum here in Washington, a double portrait of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln was on display. The subjects are familiar territory for artists, of course, but the medium is not. This portrait was made of almost 6,000 little decorated cupcakes. They were arranged in a pattern that when seen from above created an image of the two gentlemen from Illinois.

Call it large scale cupcake pointillism. The treats were baked in Buffalo. They were frozen and arrived at the museum yesterday in the back of a U-haul, 40 plastic boxes, rolled into a freight elevator…

(Soundbite of elevator)

Ms. ZILLY ROSEN (Cake artist): Sorry.

LYDEN: …and lifted up to the third floor of the American Art Museum. All this is the brainchild of Zilly Rosen. She's an artist in Buffalo where she owns a cake decorating business.

Ms. ROSEN:(Unintelligible).

LYDEN: In the museum kitchen, Rosen organize the boxes according to a grid that she created in Photoshop and each was labeled with the exact coordinates of where its content should be placed.

Ms. ROSEN: We have (unintelligible) that's Lincoln's beard.

LYDEN: In a few hours, and with the help of eight assistants, the cupcakes were pulled out of the boxes and carefully arranged on the floor into portraits. And for the curious, they're all made of yellow cake, but only the ones in Obama's face contain a chocolate meringue filling. Earlier today, I was able to get out of here and walk over to the museum and see it for myself. And I asked Zilly Rosen to describe her piece.

Ms. ROSEN: I think it's one part performance art and it's one part visual art and it's one part, maybe political statement and another part dessert. So there you go.

LYDEN: How does it feel that your cupcake portraits are under the same roof with paintings of George Washington and Lincoln and others?

Ms. Rosen: It is astounding. It is something I never dreamed of. And when I started the cake business, I thought I was really turning my back on any gallery representation or you know, museum life as an artist. And just as soon as I had figured that that was gone, it came right back around. And so, that's the unpredictability of life and a creative life especially.

LYDEN: Will you eat a cupcake yourself?

Ms. ROSEN: I have eaten quite a few…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSEN: …in the past week or two as (unintelligible), but I, absolutely. I haven't decided which one I want. Somebody has a (unintelligible) on Lincoln's mole.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Lincoln's mole?

Ms. ROSEN: I think one of the eyes of Obama, I would take that.

LYDEN: Yeah.

Ms. ROSEN: Maybe an eye piece, maybe.

LYDEN: The sparkle in the Obama eye just (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSEN: That's right.

LYDEN: Zilly Rosen is the brain and the artist and designer behind presidential cupcakes portraits at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It's been a great pleasure. It's lots of fun.

Ms. ROSEN: Thank you. Thank you so much.

LYDEN: And Zilly Rosen's masterwork has been de-installed into the stomach of Washington art lovers. But you can still see a fabulous slide show of the cupcake portrait assembly process. It's on our Web site at

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