02 November 2011

( art, from paper to metal: introducing melissa strawser )

by jennifer hetrick

a pelican press by rembrandt joined the scenery of bertoia studio in 2007, becoming an addition in the toolbox. melissa strawser is a printmaker & sculptor working in the studio. her first sculpture dates back to 27 years ago. today, that very piece enhances her mother's garden.

she is a fifth generation artisan in a family better known for pennsylvania folk art, namely: brunner, gottshall, and strawser. studying overseas at the slade school of fine art at university college london years ago,  strawser took mentorship in printmaking from the late robert blackburn of new york city and bartolomeu dos santos of portugal and london.

today, she works alongside val bertoia in his father’s old studio on the main street in bally. strawser came to bertoia studio in 1998, upon her return from london, and started coordinating art-projects of international scope. she assists bertoia studio with sculpture restoration projects but also houses her printmaking space there, establishing it in 2009 as the barto print workshop.

strawser works from her own cuts of copper plates in her printmaking, recently traveling to portugal for an international award of 'artistic residency' for the seventh evora printmaking festival where 20 of her intaglio prints were featured in a series called 'ascension from the sea,' sourced from a dream about barto dating back to 2008; the imaginary dreamscenes inspired her to tell curious stories through print after print.

while the two-dimensional art of her prints speaks in color, shape, and subject, her metal sculptures take on energy of their own, enlightening vision to see beyond the world of science and art in making huge forms from  tiny creatures both winged and of many legs. strawser brings to life an exaggeration of the creature realm which magnifies the reasons why we should be in awe of their part in the natural world.

“i have always worked with paper first, because i’m a printmaker first: i love paper,” strawser says. “working with paper allows me to fabricate three-dimensional parts before forming the entire piece in semi-precious metals.”

“my pieces begin to make themselves,” strawser continues. “i am the catalyst; most of the direction for fabricating my work is sourced from meditation or dreamstate.”

( photographs of prints courtesy of melissa strawser )

she also weaves direction in her prints and sculptures from working alongside the incredibly encouraging and insightful engineer and artist, bertoia, whose mind balances well in line with hers while they coordinate art projects of all shapes and sizes.

“i am inspired by organic forms and designs found in plants, animals, amphibians, insects, corals, and aquatic life, and how light plays an integral part of how we perceive life in our natural world,” strawser says.

( photographs of prints courtesy of melissa strawser )

strawser gravitates to appreciating how creatures in nature carry their own special energy, made more apparent by just thinking of their percussional heartbeats. she finds herself enamored with their unfettered existences, grateful to see how glimpsing and pondering their bodily design and anatomical structure leads to looking deeper into the purpose of life and the meaning in humanity.

to learn more, visit melissastrawser.com 

( sheila’s crunchy delight— a bite natural )

by marian wolbers

“i actually burned the granola. that’s how this whole business all got started,” laughs the gentle baker, sheila kline, who created sheila’s crunchydelight, a line of all-natural, preservative-free granolas.

“my fiancĂ©’s father—who likes granola—was coming to visit, and i was about to throw the batch out.” instead, she threw out the brownest bits, made a new light batch, and mixed it all together. the result was a hearty “you should start selling this !” from everyone around, and a signature granola was born.

“now i over-bake my granolas. that’s how they get browner than the pale types you see in some stores,” she confesses. no matter which variety you go for, all have a count-on-it crunchiness, and a caramel-y toastiness.

as the trees change their wardrobes from green to brown and gold and crimson, sheila can be found in the cool air, selling her wares in boyertown’s open-air farmers’ market, underneath a red awning. “the ‘original recipe’ granola is my bestseller most of the year,” she says, “but right now, the ‘pumpkin season’ variety is most popular.” inspiration for this flavor came from a son who loves pumpkin pie and all things pumpkin. ingredients include rolled oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, wheat germ, canola oil, honey, a touch of brown sugar (for flavor), cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, vanilla, and salt.

sheila kline, the gentle baker behind sheila's crunchy delight
photo courtesy of sheila kline )

crackling hard on its heels in popularity this fall and into winter are kline’s ‘sweet and spicy holiday nuts’—you know, those almond-pecan-walnut mixes that are covered with yummy yuletide flavors, the ones that keep calling your fingers back to the party bowl for “just one more handful.” these are gourmet gift quality with their quirky-comfy blend of brown sugar, butter, cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, and orange zest.

( granola-love at its finest
photographs by marian wolbers )

in the spring, the ‘banana-walnut’ granola and ‘blueberry buckle’ types, made with lemon zest, sell fastest.

how to—

granola is a fairly time-consuming goody to make, so with all the baking out of the way—thanks to kline—all a body needs to do is decide on mode of consumption.

granola is so versatile that you can…
  •  eat it right outta the bag.
  • shake a few tablespoons into a cereal bowl, and let it swim in cow milk or soy beverage.
  • swirl it into breakfast yogurt for the perfectly fun mouth-challenge of cool-smooth texture punctuated by teeth-gnashing and crunch-crushing of grains.
  • or, toss it on top of ice cream—especially the ‘s’mores and more’ granola, which really should have been named ‘truly guilty pleasure.’

the secret to the s’mores granola is its marvelous graham crackers, handmade. “i couldn’t find a graham cracker on the market that didn’t have preservatives and that i liked the taste of,” explains kline. so back to the kitchen she went. “it’s labor-intensive, but it’s worth it. i like that molasses flavor in my graham crackers.” not surprisingly, the crackers are brown-brown, slightly over-baked, too—just like the oats.

another surprise is a ‘barbee-q’ granola (yes, friends—msg-free !), wonderful alone or zippy in meatloaf. you can ask kline for the recipe in person or on her facebook page. this zesty product is a classic example of how creative she is.

the ‘chocolate chip’ granola works well alone or on dessert, or, using a recipe kline hands out, as an ingredient in chocolate chip granola cookies (buy 1 ½ cups to make these).

early start, high hopes—

kline’s been making granola ever since her children were small, using a recipe from her mom. “i wanted to make it more healthy, so i took out the sugar and now use honey and a little brown sugar just for flavor,” she says.

now making granola commercially for three years, kline has five wholesale customers and hopes to grow the business. sensitive to the blossoming demand for gluten-free products, she’s been developing a new formula for granola using oats from a hybrid seed (grown away from other oat crops), and containing no wheat bran.

she’s hoping for more outlets in the future, including interstate crunching opportunities.

look for sheila’s crunchy delight at:

also remember to search for sheila’s crunchy delight on facebook.