As a wee one (and into my awkward middling stages), I played with sculpey clay. For hours. In the basement. Even on bright summer days when I should have been frolicking in the sun. I’d sit in my lair, molding bizarre little people with spaghetti looking legs, unidentifiable creatures or the deep, and even took on the project of sculpting every character from L. Frank Balm’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (This endeavor not only included known and normal characters like Dorothy and Toto, but decidedly weird and unknown characters such as “Princess Ozma,” “The Gump,” and “Woggle-Bug.” If you feel so inclined, you should do a bit of research on these character and become increasingly terrified, by not only the true oddity of the now accepted Wizard of Oz story, but also by my childhood amusements and pastimes.)
Anyway, I sculpted lots of little things. In fact, some avid collectors of my art (most my Nana and my good friend Theresa) still display these timeless pieces upon dressers and bookshelves.
Although these hobbies carried the potentially high risk of defining me as middle school social outcast, it is strange how some childhood fascinations and hobbies become unexpectedly useful down the line. This past week at work, Chef asked me to assist her on creating a showpiece for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities. It was to be a bread display, made of “dead dough” and sculpted to look like a floral, tree-like centerpiece.
First, I made all the dead dough, which is close relative to the much beloved play-doh. This recipe contains no yeast, but only rye flour and a thick, sugar syrup, creating a malleable and solid medium for sculpting. Using all natural ingredients to create color, powdered beets turned dough rich purple, dried spinach was used for green, turmeric for yellow, chili powder for red, and cocoa powder for dark brown. During the mixing process, co-workers passed my workbench with plugged noses and “what the heck are you making back here?” faces. Beets and spinach do not mingle well with people of the baker variety, who generally prefer the sweet aromas of baked cake and cinnamon. Despite the unwelcomed smells, the natural seasonings produced vibrant colors fit for a radiant display.
Next, we sculpted individual components of the showpiece. This meant making lots of roses, big flowers and twisting vines. (This is also where my Oz-obsessed clay days came in handy). I found the process of forming the petals soothing and the familiarity of shaping them with the tips of my fingers made the work come naturally. While I molded roses, Chef also made some acorns and ears of corn to incorporate some elements of a November theme. It was a Thanksgiving showpiece after all.
After the assembly, the result was extremely satisfying. Tropical flowers and leaves, attached to elegant roses and giant-sized acorns. Although at a second glance, the theme of the display may seem disjointed, it carries a whimsical, magical feel. Like something out of Oz.