Family recipes are simmering stews of nostalgia and memories. Almost everyone can think of that one dish, prepared by a loved one or passed down for generations, that whisks them back to happy holidays or cozy nights spent together in the kitchen.
Brenda Erickson knows how much emotional stock is held in these recipes. Erickson is a watercolor artist based in Round Pond who paints still-life recipes for prints, framed paintings and an annual calendar (each year is themed; this year was blueberries, and 2019 will be appetizers). Her most successful venture and passion project is her personal commissions, where she takes a client’s recipe — the ingredients, step-by-step instructions and quirky defining elements that make it special — and paints it for posterity.
Each commission is about more than just depicting the dish; Erickson works extensively with her clients to create a painting they will truly cherish. “I want to tell their story so that when they look at it, they can taste the food, smell the food, and hear the voices of the people who are at the table,” she said.
Erickson features some of her commissioned masterpieces on her website. The paintings are at once quirky and quotidian, skillful and sentimental. What truly makes them special, though, are the details: a bowl painted with a pastoral scene in “Blueberry Muffins for Alex,” a wooden recipe box alongside the ingredients for “Nanny’s Caponata,” the uncannily accurate packaging for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Diamond pecan halves in “Rosemary’s Cookies.”
Erickson always loved to paint, but never took it seriously. She lived for more than three decades in her hometown of Kittery on the Maine coast, where she painted rocks, water and lighthouses. When she returned to Maine after spending a decade caring for her mother-in-law in Arizona (where Erickson still spends her winters), Erickson spent months contemplating what to paint in her free-time. The idea to paint recipes, she swore, came to her in a 3 a.m. revelation.