Patti Grabel’s spoons tell a story. And it starts in her grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment, decades ago.
Every Friday night, she would hop in the elevator with her brother, waiting with anticipation for the doors to open on her floor.
There, the air wasn’t just air, Grabel still vividly recalls.
“You could smell her cooking. You could smell her love. It was, ‘Welcome home,’” she said from her home in New York. “We kind of floated like cartoon characters into her apartment, and I couldn’t wait to taste her soup off the spoon. She’d hold it and give it to me. It was pure, unconditional love.”
It is a tradition Grabel continues in her adult life, while cooking for her family or entertaining at their home in Water Mill. There, the kitchen is a symphony, she said — with laughter and cheering, glasses clinking, pots sizzling and stews bubbling like musical notes.
And it all starts with a wooden spoon, she said.
“The spoon is an extension as my hand, of my arm, of my heart, of my soul,” she said. “When I’m cooking, the food might taste delicious, but what they’re really tasting is the essence of one’s soul, who’s cooking it. They’re tasting the love, the devotion, the commitment to their family.”
Her passion for cooking would intertwine with her art, manifesting in a series of prints of painted wooden spoons, which will be on view as part of the group show, “Love Is Not All,” also featuring work by Meghan Boody, Ryan Michael Kelly, Jeff Muhs and Richard Pasquarelli starting Saturday, November 3, at Iron Gate East in Southampton.
“What happened to me is, one day, I was holding this spoon in my hand and I realized the power that it had — the power to bring together family and friends to cook, to nurture, to serve, to give, all in one humble motion,” Grabel said. “I took out of my kitchen drawer this vast array of beautiful wooden spoons that were timeworn, stained with turmeric and cumin and essences from different soups, and brought them to my studio.”
There, in large vats of acrylic paint, she swirled them in the same circular motion she had used in her kitchen just moments before. Stringing up a clothesline that spanned her backyard, she hung them to dry, and watched them as they started to drip.
“I realized those drips had tremendous meaning,” she said. “They were tears, fear, trepidation, love, joy, elation and liberation as I figured out that the spoons could tell stories. I took them off the line and I put them on canvas in different ways to tell different narratives, and I photographed them.”
Grabel has kept them all, wooden spoons stretching into the hundreds. They are the union of simplicity, beauty and universality, and through them, she says she has grown to understand herself even more.
“I think my art celebrates liberation, it celebrates passion, it celebrates risk-taking, reinvention, spirituality, all aspects of our lives that some of us put on hold,” she said. “But we need to set our sights and embrace our creative spirit and go for it. To create the reality you want for yourself takes courage, and I’m embracing that.
“I started this only a few years ago, and I’m over 50, and I want to stand as an example to women that if there’s something you want to do later in life, it’s possible,” she continued. “There’s no recipe for life.”
The group exhibition “Love Is Not All” will open with a reception on Saturday, November 3, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Iron Gate East, located at 230 Bishops Lane in Southampton. The show will remain on view through December 10. For more information, visit irongateeast.com.