by Hugh Gilmore
For my wife, Janet, and me, even a small pursuit can feel like an adventure. While others of our friends walked the Great Wall of China this year, or climbed the ruins of Machu Picchu, one the focal points of our return to Montreal last week was to find the lady who sculpts with cake icing.
We’d discovered her work last year when we ate dinner al fresco at the Espace la Fontaine café (in la Fontaine park, near the Rue Rachel entrance). After eating, we went inside to look around.
Two colorful photographs drew us over. Details of larger pieces, the photos showed swirling, intricate designs in bright colors that suggested ancient patterns found in classical or eastern art, such as one sees on tiles or tapestries or in mosques.
On closer examination, several surprises were revealed: The designs were three-dimensional, applied to the side of a weatherbeaten clapboard wall, and, most surprising: made of cake icing.
We were delighted by this charming discovery, Janet especially so. She loved its playful aspect. We admired them for a few minutes and moved on into our evening’s walk through this most charming of city parks.
That might have been the end of our interest in this subject, except that four weeks ago, preparing for our annual return to Montreal, Janet told me, “I tracked down the woman who did those icing sculptures we saw in the park cafe last year.”
I asked how.
“I stopped trying to be logical and simply asked Google, “Woman who does cake icing sculptures in Montreal.”’
“And you found her?”
“Better than that. We have an appointment to meet her in her studio and possibly buy one of her photos.”
I thought, Oh, sticky wicket. What if I like her work but don’t particularly want to own either of those photos we saw? Then I’ve pestered her and wasted her work time for nothing.
Janet added, “I sent you a link to her website.”
Shelley Miller was born in Saskatchewan, Alberta, but came to Montreal to study art at Concordia University. She stayed on and now lives in the Plateau du Mont Royal section of Montreal, where she maintains her office and studio. Although she considers drawing her first love, more than twelve years ago she started her icing work and she has achieved international fame for the work she’s done.
I wish I could illustrate this article with more photos, but you can see lots of visuals of her work at her site (ShelleyMillerStudio.com). Links on the site will open to news feature stories about her and her projects.
We went over to Shelley Miller’s studio the morning after we arrived. Shelley is petite, attractive, and remarkably articulate. She greeted us warmly, and we talked for a little while we looked at some of her photographs. Like other artists who work with ‘ephemeral’ materials (think Andy Goldsworthy, for one), she sells photographs of her work. We chose a beautiful photo of a faux tile installation she’d done in Brazil. She told us the children who lived next door were amazed that someone would come to their neighborhood and cover the walls with delicious, edible icing. ( Of further wonder, Shelley says she does not bake!)
The visit left us feeling charmed and enriched. We felt as though we’d made a friend. We bought one of the Brazilian tile photographs.
And, there was more to come. Shelley Miller works in other media than icing, despite the type-casting. She’s worked with sand sculpting and hand-beaten tin baking pans, for example. And at quite the other extreme, she had a commission from the Commission scolaire de Montréal to create for the École des métiers de la restauration de Montréal (a Restaurant and Trade school – they serve meals there, reservations only – see their website) a 9-foot-tall Ductal concrete sculpture dedicated to the eternal nature of books and reading as part of the learning process. The piece is called “Circulation.”
To find it, you must go to the school at 1822 boul. de Maisonneuve West. Facing the school building, walk outside, along the left, to find the arches that lead into the rear courtyard. The piece is both monumental and inspiring. From the artist’s website: “It was created by using a negative mold made from actual books. Left behind is the trace of the pages and titles of all the books. The result is a fossil, shaped like a cross-cut section of old growth tree.”
You can see a detailed step-by-step view of its creation and installation by going to her website, previously mentioned.
I wished I had a big-enough hoop-stick so that I could have rolled it home to Chestnut Hill and installed it in one of our sculpture parks. There I could sit and ponder the questions Shelley Miller proposes: “What if books become fossils? What if trees become fossils?”
More next week, including our return to “Slowness Day” in the park.
Hugh adds: This just in, from a noted local actress, “Hugh, Loved your ‘Scenes from a Bookshop’ book! What a gem! Just started reading ‘Malcolm’s Wine’ and loving it, can’t put it down. Your fan …” Name withheld through discretion. Both books available through Amazon.com.