Arts / Galleries / Arts - Houston

Houston Food Artist Creates a Wondrous Pastry Shop in Arts Advocate’s Own Home

When a Butler's Pantry Becomes the Ultimate Sweets Retreat

BY Sarah Smith // 07.20.20

This is one artist-meets-collector story that boasts a very sweet ending.

Bryn Larsen, Houston arts advocate, and co-founder of Foto Relevance, recently commissioned Houston-based artist Diane Gelman to transform her butler’s pantry into Patisserie Larsen, a dreamy space filled with Gelman’s signature cakes and pastries. (A community-minded collector known for her adventuresome eye, Larsen also serves on the boards of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and Houston Center for Photography.) 

Houston Center for Photography 2019 auction chairs Karen Chiao, Libbie Masterson, and gallerist Bryn Larsen. Larsen, whose sense of fun is in play in this photo, recently commissioned Diane Gelmen for a sweet-shop installation for her new casa. (Photo by Roswitha Vogler)
Houston Center for Photography 2019 auction chairs Karen Chiao, Libbie Masterson, and gallerist Bryn Larsen. Larsen, whose sense of fun is in play in this photo, recently commissioned Diane Gelmen for a sweet-shop installation for her new casa. (Photo by Roswitha Vogler)

“Bryn first saw my work outside of my studio when I wasn’t even there,” Diane Gelman tells PaperCity. Larsen was so taken with the painter/sculptor’s mixed-media array of delicious desserts that she reached out to inquire about purchasing her Pop-influenced artwork. The two lost touch until Larsen moved into a new home and contacted Gelman with the idea of a private commission. 

“My initial reaction was that I wanted to cry,” Gelman says. “I was flattered that she wanted me to do what I love on such a large scale.” 

Pop Pastries Triumph

Artist Diane Gelman in her Houston studio working on a 3D-piece featuring invoking toothsome chocolates. Gelman was recently commissioned by gallerist/collector/patron Bryn Larsen to transform a room in her new home into a sweet-lovers dream. (Photo courtesy the artist) 
Artist Diane Gelman in her Houston studio working on a 3D-piece featuring invoking toothsome chocolates. Gelman was recently commissioned by gallerist/collector/patron Bryn Larsen to transform a room in her new home into a sweet-lovers dream. (Photo courtesy the artist)

Gelman found her proclivity for creating art later in life, though her passion for food was something she’d always wanted to pursue. Gelman received a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Cincinnati and is a registered, licensed dietitian. When her husband’s work took them to Texas, Gelman sought a more creative career path. Honing back to her internal foodie, Gelman tried a brief stint as a caterer before beginning painting classes. (The artist still keeps up her culinary skills and often gifts friends or studio visitors with cakes, cookies, or other sweet treats.)

“I told my instructor that I was there to paint cakes,” Gelman says, recalling that her teacher then asked if she was familiar with the work of artist Wayne Thiebaud. She was not.

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After moving to Houston, Gelman took many painting courses at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Glassell Studio School of Art, ultimately receiving a certificate in painting from the Glassell. Currently Gelman works in a studio in The Silos at Sawyer Yards, which just happens to be the former Riviana Foods Inc. factory. This is where Larsen first saw her Pop creations.

“I love the realistic quality of her work, and her constructions are three-dimensional, so they have a lot of depth and interest,” Bryn Larsen tells PaperCity. “I am sure the likeness of her art to real sweets was part of what attracted me.”

Larsen was so intrigued that she decided to commission Gelman to recreate a pastry shop in her new home. The two met and brainstormed ways to create the illusion of an authentic Parisian patisserie. The plans hardly changed since Gelman’s initial mock-up.

Gelman devised five panels that wrap the small space off the collector’s kitchen with lifelike renderings of pastry cases filled with tarts, petits fours, cakes, and eclairs, among other delicious desserts. The artist hand-carved FoamCore board, embellishing it with paper, glitter, gold leaf, and resin to concoct the delectable mise-en-scène.

On the left side wall, visitors find a marvelous macaroon tower and shelves of jams and boxes, with Patisserie Larsen adorned in the font made famous by the Paris metro system. Gelman even included the Larsen family’s favorite desserts.

The gallerist, whose collection includes works reflecting the international to the local — artists on display include Abelardo Morell, Valerie Belin, and Susan Budge — could not be more thrilled with Gelman’s installation. 

“I love the sense of discovery you have as you pass by — and then you want to take a closer look,” Larsen says. “I certainly had a vision of how it would appear in the space, but Diane was able to take it and execute it to the next level.”

Experience a video tour of Larsen’s entire collection here, and see more of Gelman’s Pop foodie works here. Explore Larsen’s gallery, Foto Relevance, here.

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