A Presidential Portrait In Pastry Zilly Rosen assembled a portrait of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln made out of more than 5,000 cupcakes. The installation was on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum until 5 p.m. on Saturday, when the public was invited to "de-install" the piece.

A Presidential Portrait In Pastry

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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 tall men 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.


LYDEN: Rolled into a freight elevator...


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 from Buffalo where she owns a cake decorating business.

ZILLY ROSEN: I'll organize them. I mean, put all the small cups here. And then...

LYDEN: In the museum kitchen, Rosen organized 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.

ROSEN: We have six M's through R, 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. 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.

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?

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 - I mean that's the unpredictability of life and a creative life, especially.

LYDEN: Will you eat a cupcake yourself?

ROSEN: I have eaten quite a few (laughing) in the past week or two as the scale has attested. But I - absolutely, I haven't decided which one I want. Somebody has a dibs on Lincoln's mole.

LYDEN: (Laughing) Lincoln's mole.

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

LYDEN: Yeah.

ROSEN: The eye...

LYDEN: The sparkle in the Obama eyes, it's just two cupcakes.

ROSEN: You have to catch the lights.


ROSEN: That's right.

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

ROSEN: Thank you, thank you so much.

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

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