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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Jelly bean artistry brings sweet 'Masterpieces' to Reading Public Museum

If you've ever told a child to stop playing with his or her food, think again. You might have a budding artist on your hands. For California artist Kristen Cumings, playing with food, or confection, has paid off big time in the art world. As a commissioned artist in the private collection of the Jelly Belly Candy Company in Fairfield, Calif., her large-scale mosaic representations of famous classic paintings have been brought to Berks County for all ages to view in a new exhibition, "Jelly Belly Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art," opening Saturday through May 5 at the Reading Public Museum.

The museum also is hosting other family-friendly exhibitions at the same time, including the interactive "Science & Art," designed to illustrate how science and art intersect in real life, and a LEGO Castle Adventure.

Cumings has reproduced eight classic masterpieces with vibrant strokes made not by brush but by bean – up to 12,000 Jelly Belly beans for each – carefully placed by hand to form a mosaic of fine detail for works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, to name some. There is the "Mona Lisa," "Girl with a Pearl Earring," "American Gothic," the Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It!" poster reproduction, "Tahitian Girl With Mango," "Starry Night," "Portrait of a Young Blond Girl" and "The Great Wave of Kanagawa."

Each framed work, approximately four-feet-by-six feet in size, was created by Cumings in 2010 and 2011, for Jelly Belly's series, "Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art." A public debut of the series was held in April 2011, at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis, where Cumings was raised.

Cumings is an accomplished portrait artist and special education teacher whose art has been shown at galleries around the San Francisco Bay area, Pentaluma and Martinez, where she resides. She was first commissioned to make a tribute to the California grizzly bear on site at the "It's a Candy Nation" exhibit at the 2009 California State Fair. The six-foot portrait is comprised of approximately 10,000 Jelly Belly beans, some 25 to 30 colors in all. Cumings captured national recognition in July 2010, when she was invited to appear with some of her Jelly Belly creations on "The Rachael Ray Show" in a "Play with Your Food" episode.

Cumings makes it sound painless as she explains her technique and style in creating jelly bean art, but each work can take up to 100 hours of intensive labor. She said she first looks at references in her research and examines an image to match it with the colors of Jelly Belly flavors. On an average, she can use up to 25 to 35 colors in a work.

"One pound of jelly beans will cover a little less than a square foot," said Cumings, adding that the beans come in 10-pound boxes. Her personal sweet-tooth flavor is sour cherry.

She said she first starts with a framed board that she seals with a clean liquid resin. The next step is making a charcoal drawing of her image and painting it in acrylics. Once dried, and in adequate ventilation, she covers it with Krylon spray adhesive and begins to glue the beans tightly together. When all have been placed, a resin is applied carefully so that every inch of the work is sealed.

When asked if there were any Hollywood celebrities she had the "sweets" for, Cumings thought for a moment and said she would be interested to try screen actor Johnny Depp in beans, possibly as his character of Edward Scissorhands or Captain Jack.

According to Jelly Belly spokeswoman Tomi Holt, there are more than 100 flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans that are sold in nearly 80 countries. The most popular flavor is very cherry.  She said that Jelly Belly Art was the brainchild of San Francisco artist Peter Rocha, self-proclaimed king of Jelly Belly art in 1982. After President Reagan publicly expressed his fondness for Jelly Belly beans, Rocha did some sampling of his own and became impressed with the range and brilliance of the colors of the beans. After some pencil sketches and trials of gluing beans by hand and with chopsticks, he succeeded in making his first portrait of President Reagan. Since then, Jelly Belly has commissioned several artists from across the country for their sweet renderings of famous personalities and classic Americana subjects for the company's private collection.

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Young composers will take the stage on Sunday at 3 p.m., when the Bach Choir of Bethlehem presents a family concert at Baker Hall in the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University. Themed "The Write Stuff – Meet Our Young Composers," the event celebrates winners of Bach's Young Composers' Competition with works written by those under the age of 25.

This year's young composers are Michael Battipaglia, a senior at Moravian College,  Michael McAndrew, a sophomore at Moravian College, and Christopher Ostertag, a homeschooled ninth grader.

The hour-long performance will include audience interaction and a composition game involving improvisation. Facilitator is composer Larry Lipkis.

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