We just framed this exquisite linoleum block print, “Figs,” by one of my favorite Berkeley artists, Patricia Curtan, and it’s a lovely bit of nostalgia for me as we approach our 25th anniversary in August. “Figs” is an illustration for Chez Panisse Fruits, one of several cookbooks Patricia produced with Alice Waters, the founder and owner of the world-renowned restaurant, Chez Panisse. One of my first shows was of Patricia’s prints that illustrated Chez Panisse Fruits‘s predecessor, Chez Panisse Vegetables. We’ve also framed some menus the artist made. Many of these prints are shown below. Although Chez Panisse Vegetables came out in 1996, those first of Patricia’s prints we framed were made, if I’m not mistaken, in ’93—the year we opened our doors.
I’ve always been happy with the framing and it’s nice to reflect without misgivings on this early work. (These framed prints were all sold long ago; check Patricia’s site, though, for print availability.) But the one featured here, I framed for the showroom and it is (at this writing) available for purchase.
The frame is No. 14 CV OS—3/4″ in walnut (Medieval stain). The carved texture echoes the texture of the skin of the fruit. I chose to use the outset corners to repeat the way the fig leaf in the print frames the figs. With Medieval stain on the walnut, the frame color is that of the figs, but in a darker shade, and even has just a hint of the purple in the figs. The print is floated, meaning that it’s hinged (hinges are small tabs of thin, archival paper attached with archival paste to the artwork) to lay on top of the mount, or support, and reveal the edges of the paper instead of being matted, which would cover the edges. Fillets (narrow strips of mat board on edge under the rabbet of the frame) of the same board as the support separate the glass from the print.
These prints were all made to illustrate books by Alice Waters, with whom Patricia has long been affiliated—initially, in fact, as a cook. Besides Chez Panisse Fruit and Chez Panisse Vegetables, her books produced with Alice include Menus for Chez Panisse, The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II. Several of the prints in our frames hang in the restaurant, alongside many of our mirrors.
But more about the prints: For every color, a different block is made. Each color, then, is individually printed, requiring careful registration of the paper to align all the colors. Patricia uses an antique Chandler and Price press.
Wendell Berry wrote, “Nothing exists for its own sake, but for a harmony greater than itself which includes it. A work of art, which accepts this condition, and exists upon its terms, honors the Creation, and so becomes a part of it.” In the 47 years since Alice began Chez Panisse, a wonderful world filled with love and reverence for nature’s creation—a cuisine restored to a sound basis in fresh, delicious ingredients—has emanated from her work and that of countless people connected, directly and indirectly, with it. Patricia’s prints are a part of that greater harmony. It’s a broader culture that includes the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School, a wonderful garden which not only revitalized and beautified what was, when I attended King in the early ’70’s, the dreariest part of that school’s campus, but introduced a powerful and compelling new aspect to the curriculum which very favorably contributed to the education of many a middle schooler—my own daughter among them. The influence of the Edible Schoolyard has grown exponentially as it’s served as a model for school curricula and facilities around the world.
But school gardens are just the beginning of the broader influence of Alice Waters, Chez Panisse and farm and food culture of Berkeley.