Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota joined Subway sandwiches' fan club with a bust made out of their food products by local food sculptors Marie Pelton and Jim Victor. (Photo courtesy Jim …
by Barbara Sherf
Who cut the cheese? None other than local food sculptors Jim Victor and Marie Pelton, as cheese, butter, chocolate and other food products are the preferred medium from which these “cheese whizzes” make their “bread and butter.”
Since the pandemic hit, the pair have been busy working on online workshops for those who want to play with their food. “This year started out to be a stellar year, perhaps the best year ever, but when the pandemic hit, everything came to a grinding halt,” said Marie Pelton, who is married to Jim. “Now we are working on preparing a local workshop for doing horse sculptures at the Bent Brook Farm in West Chester, where I ride, and we’re hoping to teach people to do horse sculptures.”
While the details have not been “patted” down, the couple was relieved to get their first new butter sculpture job since the coronavirus for 10 days in August. “ I’m sorry, but we cannot tell you more about it. It’s all hush hush until we get permission to talk about it.”
Residing in Conshohocken, the pair works in either a refrigerated mobile studio or in a butter sculpture booth specifically designed for this work. They keep the temperature between 50 to 65 degrees depending on the medium they are working with. First they must design and weld an armature together. This is one of many behind-the-scenes tasks designated for Pelton. Then they can begin their work in butter.
“When we start, we want the butter to be warm and the consistency of clay. As we progress, we lower the temperature to work on the fine details,” said Victor.
Other unique sculptures by the pair include a life-sized figure of chocolate magnate Milton Hershey, a chocolate Statue of Liberty that still stands in Las Vegas, a buttery NASCAR auto made of 3,000 pounds of ripe cheddar (no longer standing) and a buttery scene on their business card of a manatee, scuba diver and coral reef.
The pair, both graduates of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), ventured into food sculpting in a roundabout way. “I was doing sculptures of Jimmy Carter for New York Magazine and a bust of Henry Kissinger for the New York Times. Then I was approached to do the heads of Andy Rooney and Anne Miller to celebrate their 1000th performance of the Broadway musical “Sugar Babies,” and that’s how it all began,” said Victor. He said that Rooney joked he was going to give his bust to diabetes patients at a local hospital.
The couple met in 1988 while he was a teacher and she a student at Fleisher Art Memorial, studying a variety of art mediums. Victor introduced Pelton to sculpture, but the bulk of it she learned at PAFA. Eventually the couple married in 2003.
Victor, 75, who has been on the Food Network and been written up in a host of publications, talked about proper lighting being an issue with the food. “Often with chocolate one of the problems we have is it’s very dark in color, and if you don’t light it well, you can’t see the details. But then you can’t have things like chocolate or butter in direct sunlight as it does present a problem.”
The couple makes it a point not to get too attached to their work. “It’s fine to let the work go,” said Victor. “We are professionals and are used to it. It relieves us of the responsibility of storing the work. For us it’s more about doing the work, and the memories last on in photos.”
Farm shows like the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg always brings a solid project, like cows made from butter. They have been doing the Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts since 1996, but the unusual is what gets them really jazzed.
“We did a Snacks And Sweets show in Chicago,” said Victor, “reproducing a theater in mini-candy, and this Spanish candy company had all kinds of gummy frogs and other shapes and varieties of color. We made a very intricate Victorian building that was so much fun. We also ate a lot of candy.”
The couple make it a rule, though, not to eat and sculpt at the same time. “Once you smell the aroma of chocolate or cheese, we do find ourselves saving some for after the piece is built,” said Pelton. “How enticing it might be to stick your finger in a vat of chocolate and lick it, but we are professionals.”
Victor is glad not to have a studio full or artwork looking for a home. “When a sculptor dies,” he said, “everyone worries about what to do with the artist’s work, but that’s something we don’t have to think about.”
For more information: jimvictormariepelton.com or on Instagram at jvmp_foodsculpt.
Barbara Sherf can be reached at capturelifestories @gmail.com