San Francisco's Great Quake, Recalled in Jello Artists are commemorating the 1906 earthquake in a variety of ways, some traditional -- poetry, prose -- and some not-so, including a Jello model of the city by the bay.

San Francisco's Great Quake, Recalled in Jello

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

San Franciscans have been paying tribute to the memory of the Great Earthquake and Fire in all sorts of media, newspapers, television, radio, and films of course. But Jello?

San Francisco Bay artist Liz Hickok, is the creator of the San Francisco in Jello series, which was exhibited at the Exploratorium last week. And she joins us now.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. LIZ HICKOK (artist): Thanks. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Describe your work for us.

Ms. HICKOK: Well, I've been selecting different areas of San Francisco, and making little scale models of them and casting them in Jello. And then usually photographing them.

CONAN: In Jello. How come Jello?

Ms. HICKOK: How come Jello? Jello's a wonderful medium. It's colorful and jewel-like. And it's, you know, why not Jello?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HICKOK: Really.

CONAN: Well, after what we're talking about it certainly shimmies appropriately.

Ms. HICKOK: It does. It's turned out to be a really wonderful alternative to glass or resin. And it's temporary. It shakes, it sweats, you know, you can't really predict what its going to do.

CONAN: Is what you do sculpture?

Ms. HICKOK: I do a mix of sculpture and photography and video. I really kind of do everything you know? It really just depends on the moment.

Recently, I did some sculptural pieces here at the Exploratorium, which just lasted for a day, pretty much. And then, usually I'll take my sculptures and I'll photograph them, so that then I have a more permanent, you know, permanent thing that lasts for awhile.

CONAN: You light them from below so the colors shine through?

Ms. HICKOK: I do. I light them from below and they really create this magical effect. You know, they're transformed when you light them from below. They become very, very just unreal. Very surreal.

CONAN: How do you decide? I mean, the Coit Tower, for example? I mean, cherry, orange, what?

Ms. HICKOK: (Laughs) You know, it really depends on the piece. For example, the last piece I did, the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium, where we are now, and you know, a lot of its just really artistic decisions that any artist might make. You know, I wanted a contrast from the oceans, so, you know, I wanted warm colors.

CONAN: That exhibit here at the Exploratorium, the staff here found some actual real science involved.

Ms. HICKOM: Yeah, No, I mean, it's actually the process involves, you know, both artistic and scientific elements, from, you know, figuring out the consistency of the Jello to making topographic maps.

CONAN: They said your work helped illustrate the principle of liquid faction, which in the case of Jello, again seems appropriate.

Ms. HICKOK: Yeah, it was perfect. They helped me make a shake table, so that, you know, once I set up my little marina district, I could shake it every so often and create a pretty dramatic earthquake effect.

CONAN: How, San Francisco is also a city noted for fog, as well. Do you introduce that into your work?

Ms. HICKOK: I do, yeah. No, I had, again, another, you know, assistance from the Exploratorium. We had this wonderful machine that created, you know, water vapors. And I've also used dry ice.

CONAN: Dry ice? Yeah, that's the old trick.

Ms. HICKOK: Yeah.

CONAN: I wonder though. These are obviously ephemeral creations. Jello will not last forever.

Ms. HICKOK: No. I think that's one of the effects I'm trying to get at, is realizing that our, you know, environment around us isn't as permanent as we think. And just sort of appreciating the moments and getting lost in that.

CONAN: Most artists though don't create edible works. I wonder, have you ever been tempted to snack on city hall?

Ms. HICKOK: (Laughs) Well, after a little while the sculptures themselves get a little disgusting.


Ms. HICKOK: Yeah, yeah. They start to mold and get pretty gross. But, you know, as I'm making them, and I have made one, one or two versions of the sculpture that people were allowed to eat, which was fun.

CONAN: And have, are you done with San Francisco? Are you going to move on to other world cities and make them in Jello?

Ms. HICKOK: No, I don't think so. Not for right now. San Francisco just makes so much sense in Jello. Whether it's, you know, the quality…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HICKOK: …what we've been talking about today, you know, just for the quality of light and the fun. And, you know, playfulness of it.

CONAN: By the way, if you'd like to take a look at some of the pictures of Liz Hickok's work, you can see it online, Click on the TALK OF THE NATION page.

And thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. HICKOK: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Liz Hickok is a San Francisco Bay area artist, the creator of the San Francisco in Jello Series that was exhibited here at the Exploratorium.

We want to thank our hosts here at the Exploratorium for putting up with us the last couple of days as we were setting up here in this little, beautiful little theater here, and the folks at member station KQED, in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.