Utah icons rendered in bread dough

Mar 31 2011 - 8:22pm


Bread-dough sculptures by Robert Fontenot include the Dee Events Center in “The Place This Is” at the Salt Lake Art Center.
Bear Lake Monster
Bread-dough sculptures of a beehive.
“Kay’s Cross”
Bread-dough sculptures by Robert Fontenot include the Dee Events Center in “The Place This Is” at the Salt Lake Art Center.
Bear Lake Monster
Bread-dough sculptures of a beehive.
“Kay’s Cross”

Brigham Young said, "This is the place" -- and oh what a place this is.

Utah is home to unique landmarks, people and history, and now it's the subject of a unique art exhibit.

"The Place This Is" by Robert Fontenot, opens today at the Salt Lake Art Center, and continues through June 1.

Using a bread-like craft dough, Fontenot created more than 100 sculptures that symbolize places and events in Utah, then took photographs of them. The images, as well as one large wall sculpture, are on display.

"He's creating a wall frieze out of bread dough that's going to depict the Kennecott tower and large billowing plumes of smoke," said Micol Hebron, senior curator of exhibitions for the art center. "That will fill one whole wall of the gallery."

Works in the display also include watercolor paintings of the people who helped make the exhibit possible, as well as some unusual embroidery samplers exploring a variety of stitches the artist learned on the Internet.

Crafting art

Hebron invited Fontenot to create an exhibit for the Salt Lake Art Center because of his nontraditional use of traditional crafts.

"He uses things I've seen a lot of here as well -- handicraft and domestic art -- but he uses them in ways that connect with dialogues in contemporary art circles," she said. "I thought his practice would be really interesting for residents of Utah."

She didn't tell the artist he had to create an exhibit about Utah -- that was his idea.

"He has spent the last five months doing research on Utah from the outside, so much of his show addresses what it means to have an impression of a place or history from the outside. ... I'm amazed at the amount of information and details he has unearthed about Utah from two states away," said Hebron, who moved to Utah six months ago. "I'm ashamed to say he knows far more about Utah now than I do."

Digging Utah history

Fontenot, who lives in Los Angeles with his dog Pork Chop, used to know about as much about Utah as the average American.

"It's one of those states that doesn't fit neatly into the American history that's taught, so you sort of get weird little snippets of its history," he said.

He had visited Utah once, during spring break of his freshman year in college.

"Mostly, I remember laser tag, house parties, and being snuck into a girls' dorm at BYU," he said.

The artist was surprised by some of his research.

"One thing that constantly surprised me was all the movies shot in Utah. Anytime you think of the old West, it's almost always Utah, visually," he said. "It stands in for every other part of the West."

Fontenot was also surprised to learn about Utah pioneers' use of handcarts.

"It's something I feel I should have learned about, in a way, in American history," he said.

Mixing it up

To create his Utah sculptures, Fontenot mixed up a clay-like dough.

"It's essentially flour and salt," he said. "It's the same stuff often given to children to sculpt with. ... If you tasted it, it would be disgusting -- and you bake it until it's hard as a rock."

His Utah sculptures depict a mix of famous and obscure symbols. He re-created Delicate Arch, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Goblin Valley and the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

"Part of the project, I wanted to almost make a primer on what it might be like to be a Utah native, with things outsiders normally don't hear about," he said.

So he created bread-dough images of the clown that used to be a symbol for Dee's Drive-In, the flooding of the town of Thistle, and the legendary Bear Lake Monster.

Northern Utah is represented in the exhibit with Weber State University's Dee Events Center and Stewart Bell Tower. There's also a sculpture of Huntsville's Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity and Kaysville's Kay's Cross, which was destroyed in 1992.

"There were so many good things to choose from," said Fontenot. "It's a project I could be doing for years, until I rendered the entire state in bread dough. I had to pick an arbitrary cutoff before I could drive myself crazy, and I would have spent my entire savings on flour and salt."


Fontenot is driving some of the art to Utah, and has a huge list of things he wants to see when he gets here.

"Of course, I want to see the Salt Flats and the Spiral Jetty, and I want to see Arches National Park. ... plus the two-headed lamb -- I want to see that," he said. "I think it's the state in the union that if most people realized it was all there, they would want to go."

If he wants a souvenir, he can pick one up at the Salt Lake Art Center -- photos of his Utah sculptures have been made into a book, "An Introduction to the Glorious State of Utah."

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