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Alumnus brings cheese from kitchen to canvas Two cheese enthusiasts found their niche in Philly’s food culture. By MADELINE PRESLAND The Temple News The art studio of alumnus and adjunct professor Mike Geno, 45, proudly displays cheese paintings and bacon drawings. Cheese paintings have been his specialty since his first encounter with fellow cheese enthusiasts. “Bread has been very good, too,” said Geno, who graduated in 1995 from the Tyler School of Art. “I need to make more time for it.”

Geno and cheese blogger Tenaya Darlington, 43, better known as Madame Fromage, met at a party in 2010. She introduced Geno to more varieties of cheese to paint after he spent a $25 gift certificate at Di Bruno Bros. on a wedge that would become his new muse. “I felt like I had to paint that cheese,” Geno said. “It was so beautiful. I hadn’t expected that. I painted it that day.” After graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Geno pursued graduate school in the Midwest. He moved to Carbondale, Illinois to obtain a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University. He moved back to Philadelphia in 2001. Geno’s cheese art has


Mike Geno paints cheese art for clients around the world.

been featured in the New York Times, Cheese Connoisseur Magazine and various gallery shows. “I was really turned off of the idea of working on overserious things,” Geno said. “Everyone was making things that were really showing off their intellect, or how serious their art was. It felt pretentious to me.” Throughout graduate school, Geno began working on still life paintings of toys— not serious things, Geno said, but he painted them "very seriously, like it was the most important rubber ducky in the world.” “The faculty were sometimes agitated by how well it was painted, but how unimportant the subject was to them,” Geno said. For his final thesis, Geno explored painting something other than toys. “I joked that I was really hungry and really wished that I had the money to get a big juicy steak and paint it like one of these rubber duckies,” Geno said. “I did it as a joke, and it turned out to be a really good experience because I was working as a meat cutter before grad school and I understood the subject—the subtleties of the color and the texture of raw meat. My paint


Mike Geno is an adjunct professor at Tyler who finds his artistic inspiration in cheese.

became an extension of that.” Darlington, a Wisconsin native, led Geno to be inspired by cheese's complexities. She—quite literally—"wrote the book " on cheese while collaborating with gourmet food retailer Di Bruno Bros. “Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese” was published in 2013. “I started checking out cheese shops out of homesickness,” Darlington said. “I called [the blog] ‘Madame Fromage’ because I thought the cheese board itself was very theatrical.” Darlington left her

job as writer and editor for Isthmus Newspaper in 2005 to teach writing at St. Joseph’s University. There are about 3,000 readers on her blog each month, she said. “Cheese is going through a boom time like craft beer and distilled spirits,” Darlington said. “I think that there’s a whole generation of folks who grew up in the suburbs, always eating a lot of frozen foods and packaged foods. When they encounter these flavors, like with what you get with charcuterie or handcrafted cheese, it’s like they have an awakening.”

Darlington is currently working on a cocktail book and will head across the Atlantic to England in search of cheddar and anything else she might find in a cave or pasture. “I believe in taking big risks,” Darlington said. “I’ve gotten to know so many people in the cheese world now,” Geno said. “It’s like a weird fraternity. I never had a fraternity. They’re much warmer than the art world.” * madeline.presland@temple. edu


Eyes on South Street Latin art The Zagars sell Latin folk art at Eyes Gallery on South Street. By EMILY SCOTT The Temple News In what used to be Julia Zagar’s kitchen, bright Latin-American folk art pieces are displayed alongside pink and blue mosaic walls created by her husband, Isaiah. The Zagars are best known for South Street’s large mosaic installation, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, and arts philanthropy throughout the Philadelphia region. Isaiah Zagar’s eye-catching mosaic work can be found on walls across the area, like Germantown Academy in Fort Washington. The Zagars are also the owners of Eyes Gallery on South Street, founded in 1968 and filled to the brim with Latin-inspired folk art. The shop was purchased for $10,000 and originally occupied only the first floor. The couple lived upstairs, but as their collection grew, the store expanded as well. “We were the first of the new shops to open on South Street,” Julia Zagar said. “There became more and more and we called it the South Street Renaissance.” The Zagars joined the Peace Corps after finishing art school in New York. Julia Zagar said her husband didn’t want to go into the draft, so they chose to join the Peace Corps and were stationed in the southern ADVERTISEMENT

mountains of Peru. The pair trained in Peru for three years under Peace Corps advisors in craft development and worked with craftspeople to bring items back to the American market, Julia Zagar said. “We started filling trunks of all the things we had made and the Peace Corps sent them back for us,” Julia Zagar said. Julia Zagar first became interested in Latin jewelry when she was looking for a wedding ring in Peru. “I saw what they did in making earrings, cuffs, hammering silver and we learned the different techniques,” Julia Zagar said. She began buying pieces in Peru, starting the jewelry collection that would eventually add to her gallery and shop. When the couple returned to the United States, they began attending handcraft jewelry shows in New York and met people from all over the world. Today, all of the jewelry is made out of silver, gold, copper, bronze or wood. Julia Zagar said the idea of opening a store was born when she and her husband were thinking of ways to put their work on display. But in the early sixties, South Street was deserted, she said. There were plans in the works of putting an expressway through the street. “There were a lot of people who wanted to do something and were interested, so we formed a group,” she said. “South Street Renaissance became a reality.” Some of the shop's early collections came from their Peace Corps

station in Puno. “It is southern Peru with Aymara Indians and there great knitters and all the alpaca wool comes from there,” Julia Zagar said. “It is a very fruitful area even though it is very poor.” From speaking Spanish while in the Peace Corps, she said that she and her husband received a more intense grounding in the culture of Latin America. They fell in love with the color associated with the region and reflected it in their shop. “We are color, design, fruitfulness, and that is what you see in Latin America,” Julia Zagar said. She added that the gallery and store has a collection of Philadelphia art ranging from pre-Columbia to modern times. One contributing artist is 2003 Tyler alumna Danielle Puccini, who graduated as an art history major. “If it feels like it will fit in with the folk art that is great, but we also try to get out of the box a little bit and try other designers, local designers, anyone who is fair trade,” said former student Carole Shields, the store manager and domestic buyer for the gallery. “There are very few Latin folk art stores left,” Shields said. “I hope we are here for another 50 years.” “We love what we do and it has opened many other vistas for us,"”she said. "We stay even with the ups and downs. We have a clientele that supports us, knows that we are different ... they want the unusual.” *


The Free Library displays a sacred Hindu text written on a 64-foot scroll.

Through ancient texts, world religions converge The Free Library of Philadelphia opened an exhibit on sacred texts for the papal visit. By EMILY THOMAS The Temple News A 200-year-old, 64-foot Hindu scroll lies in a display case on the third floor of the Free Library. Beside the scroll sits a handmade Quran— enclosed in a cover that took six painstaking months to create. These rare texts are just two of the pieces in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s new exhibition, “Sacred Stories: The World's Religious Traditions,” which opened in late August. The display showcases artifacts from five of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, including a copy of Martin Luther’s first German New Testament and the first translation of the Quran into English. The exhibition runs through Jan. 30 and offers extended hours during the World Meeting of Families. With the influx of visitors coming to Center City and surrounding areas, the library wanted to take advantage of the crowds and enhance tourists’ experience in Philadelphia by exposing them to stories of devotion and worship. For Caitlin Goodman, curator of the rare book department at the Free Library, it was important the exhibit included all five religions, instead of

focusing solely on Catholicism. “Religious experience, in all its variety, is a prototypical human experience,” Goodman said. “The exhibition illuminates thematic similarities found in all five of the world’s major religions. Spotlighting materials from different religions emphasizes the fundamentally human practices of religious experience.” “Sacred Stories” showcases texts dating back to the 13th century, displaying scrolls, bibles and personal devotion books—like Mark Twain’s copy of the New Testament and William Penn’s personal bible. “The books, scroll and fragments on display narrate a journey through 1,000 years of history,” said Janine Pollock, head of the rare book department at the Free Library. “They tell stories about the creation of the world and its workings, building a community of narrative around the sacred word.” The exhibit draws interest for its inclusiveness and visual appeal. Beautifully illuminated manuscripts line the display cases, with intricate texts and impossibly complex designs, which took months to create by hand. Vibrant pictorials tell stories with colorful pictures, recounting tales of gods and goddesses, world creations and holy figures. “The thought actually crossed my mind, that if the Pope were to come here and see this display, he would really embrace it,” Pollock said. *

Volume 94 Issue 5  

Issue for Tuesday September 22 2015