Exhumations: Marshmallow Magic
by Stephen Fowler


Marshmallow Magic
by Melva E Adams
Self-published; Bowmanville [?], ca. 1978

Marshmallow Magic is a guide to a previously unrecorded Canadian artform: diminutive sculptures constructed from marshmallows and buttercream icing. Though creator Melva Adams never defines the exact intent of these works—edible cake decorations? novelty desserts in their own right? or enduring statuary for mantelpiece or gallery?—her willingness to describe their technical specifications, and to illustrate them with humble line-art drawings, reveals the artist’s obvious sense of mission.

For subject matter, Adams mines the iconography of suburban domesticity: household artifacts (telephone, baby bootie, watering can); holiday traditions (pumpkin, turkey, Christmas tree); and the pop mediasphere (Muppets, Star Wars). It’s left to the viewer to decide whether these represent an implicit critique of homemaker culture, or simply a Koonsian celebration of kitchen kitsch. From a formal standpoint, marshmallow sculpture does not pose enormous challenges. “Fire Hydrant” is a single marshmallow, decorated with red icing. “Candle” consists of two stacked marshmallows iced to look like dripping wax. “Ghost” (see cover illustration) splits the difference by stacking one and a half marshmallows before icing with bedsheet white. More demanding works—requiring both large and small marshmallows—include “Teddy Bear” and “R2-D2.”

Beyond considerations of where exactly Marshmallow Magic lands on the spectrum of Canadian art, there remains the question of its authenticity: apart from the present example, it’s an elusive document. No copy is listed for sale in any online marketplace, and the Worldcat database records none held in any library (including the almost comprehensive culinary collection at Guelph).

Under such circumstances, it’s tempting to suspect this might be a one-off spoof. But what satirist possesses the subtlety and discipline to create something so convincingly trivial?

—From CNQ 111 (Spring/Summer 2022)

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