Sharing the Table

by Christine Adams Beckett

Jean Shin’s evocative, allegorical sculpture “Host,” gracing the grounds of the The Montclair Art Museum, offers a distinctive glimpse into our unique suburban culture.  The piece consists of three segments of a tree: its stump, a log and a beautifully natural branch, standing upright lending the feel of a living sapling reaching for the sun.  It is made largely of donated flatware given by members of our community.  Stainless steel, plated silver, perhaps even a cast-off lone solid silver piece, no longer useful to an individual family, now feed an entire community and blind passers- and drivers-by with reflected brilliance.

Ms Shin, a Brooklyn artist commissioned by the Museum to commemorate its Centennial, is known for her work with cast off objects: a wall mural made of well-worn computer keys, houses constructed of scratch-off lottery tickets, a billowing sculpture made of umbrellas.  But “Host” is unique in that it touches upon an important connection to the natural and cultural functions of familial society: the act of breaking bread together.  It is how we physically sustain our human bodies, an avenue for teaching culture to our children, and a way to connect with our loved ones at the end of a long day.

In a typical American suburb, perhaps the act of sharing a meal together often involves more plastic sporks than unique pieces of flatware long missing their place setting mates.  But in Montclair, a town that boasts a fabulous farmers market, several community supported agricultural associations, even a Chicken Keepers Collective, the more formal flatware fits.  Beautifully.  We feed our souls as well as our bodies here, fabulous restaurants of various ethnicity abound, and local authors write about the importance of good food in their own families.  (For a feast, pick up a copy of Laura Schenone’s The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.)

The donated silver is imbedded in an allegorical tree whose three parts represent a larger reality.  The stump signifies the tragic but necessary fallout of felling one, and Shin’s representation contains carefully bent knives curling around in circles that shape its imagined history.  An observer of the piece as physical object can’t help but wonder who used the simplistic butter knife or the one with the curlicued handle to smear his or her lemon curd onto a freshly baked blueberry scone, clotted cream onto a buttermilk biscuit.  It might have been difficult for the person to part with what might have been once construed as an heirloom, but did so in excitement that it would become part of a larger reality, a literal piece of art.  Perhaps the formerly cherished piece of flatware pitted from being placed in the dishwasher with everyday stainless pieces.  The silver plated pieces, with the floral motif,  no longer held the same warm significance after a difficult divorce.  Yet together, the cast-offs have changed in shape and significance.

The silver log is destined for celestial building projects.  Representing the Christ-like quality of a tree as gift to humanity: its own life so that others may live.  The branch is the tree in its original, natural and awe-inspiring state, its off shoots symbolizing the family and life itself.  One branch culminates in a fork, another a soup spoon, suggesting autumnal changes in its life cycle, having shed some of its “leaves”.  True to natural forces, the viewer is teased into wondering if in the Spring, the spoon bud will burst forth in full-forked bloom by May in Montclair celebrations.

Certainly none of David Schiller or Asa Miraglia’s flatware went to Shin’s work.  Unique Hosts in their own rite, David and Asa throw dinner parties for charity, charging attendees a small fee, all of which go to local food pantries to feed the hungry in our community.  “Sharing the Table” they call their movement, by which they serve their fabulous cooking with “friends new and old” over a leisurely dinner that offers a “unique vibe” at every party.  Interested parties should join their e-mailing list and be quick on the reply button; dinners fill within an hour of the e-mail invitation landing in the in box.  Which is why David and Asa need ALL their superfluous flatware: for their own works of art, delicious and representational of our charitable and life-loving community.