TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Vegetable Papyrus

Veggie bowls by Margaret Dorfman

Several years ago I was able to visit my friend, Linda Chesnut, in Olympia, Washington. My visit coincided with the Procession of the Species and Olympia's Art Walk. All of the stores downtown become an art gallery for the weekend. The shoe store, hardware store, sports store- all showcased artists from the area. Then, the Procession of the Species, took over. This is a yearly celebration of life on earth and its elements (earth, wind, water and fire), expressed through elaborate costuming and dance. I must plug it here with this YouTube video:

My friend, Linda, actively works with the Procession every year and as I walked around in wonder, I thought that if every city and town engaged in such an event, crime would surely leave through the exit door.

As we walked around, we came across a gallery which featured an artist who made these beautiful vessels out of dried fruits and vegetables. I had never seen anything like them. They were sturdy and translucent, with light highlighting all of the patterns and veins of the orange, carrot, beet, or other fruit or vegetable.

In researching this art form, I found out that most people refer to it as "vegetable papyrus", although the most renowned artist in this medium, Margaret Dorfman, calls it "vegetable parchment". Here is one of her bowls, made out sweet peas:

Sweet Peas, by Margaret Dorfman

The vessels I saw in Olympia were not as textured as Margaret's veggie bowls. They were narrow, high, elegant pieces, but I could not find any information about other artists working the medium in 3-d form. Margaret Dorfman is the guru of vegetable papyrus. Her work is found in galleries around the country and is available online at Uncommon Goods, which has a nice bio on her. I thought her background in anthropology, linguistics, and sign language was especially interesting.

Carrot Bowl by Margaret Dorfman

Margaret states in the bio:

"What delights me about creating these vegetable parchment bowls, is the process of turning what is seen as ordinary and commonplace into something of beauty. The bowls allow me to re-see what I take for granted; the luminous beauty of fruits and vegetables, their jewel-like colors, and most of all their ability to surprise and enchant. As I work with the fruits and vegetables, I feel like I am not creating something new, but instead uncovering what was always there to see."

When I first saw those vessels in Olympia, I thought that the veggies must have been freeze dried and then sliced and glued. The vibrancy of the colors mystified me. But, no. They are boiled, then pressed until the fluids dry out. I found a couple of sites with instructions. Hand Paper Making has some good information where they also use tamale wraps to replicate traditional papyrus. Art In Company has a papyrus section with excellent images on what different fruits and vegetables look like after they have been pressed and dried. Some do lose their color, while others retain the pigments. The following photos are some of the examples they have listed, but visit their site for a more comprehensive view.


Star Fruit

Sweet Potato



Apparently, once dried, the papyrus is pretty sturdy. In Margaret Dorfman's product description, they suggest using the veggie bowls with a votive candle inside them. It seems to me that the potential uses for this medium has been barely tapped. Wouldn't they make gorgeous lampshades? Or, how about a table-top sandwiched in glass with back lighting? I'm sure that many other wonderful ideas are lurking out there, ready to be nabbed and made into something new and beautiful. As Margaret Dorfman stated, "Uncover what has always been there to see!"


  1. This is new to me...and absolutely fabulous. You're right about the endless uses...

  2. I have one of these - given to me by my friend, Jean. It is beautiful. :)

  3. I'd seen these before in Uncommon Goods (who playfully recommends they be given to junk food lovers). Breathtaking, the ones you've posted. Would be fun to try with our abundant produce here.


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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