Happy Holidays from the Department of Anthropology
Every year in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, a magical time sneaks up on us—the time for our annual holiday party! The wait is made all the more exciting for those of us who all try to guess what Eric Hollinger will be making for the party this year. Every year he makes an amazing anthropologically themed cake or edible sculpture for us all to enjoy.
Last year it was “Caramel Cliff House”, a truly awesome interpretation of the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, complete with its own "National Pastry Service, U.S. Department of Sugar" brochure guide to the "site" (aka cake!). If you would like a tongue-in-cheek tour of the Caramel Cliff House, please download the Caramel House Brochure written by Lauren Sieg. Caramel Cliff House featured caramel cake and caramel icing with structures built using over 5,000 individual caramel bricks. Below ground kivas and multi-storied towers were among the edible buildings!
In 2011, my personal favorite, Eric spent over 60 hours sculpting a giant chocolate Aztec calendar stone complete with green candy-coated chocolate “jade” inlays. It was carved from a solid block of chocolate, 2.5 feet in diameter, using a single small nail as the carving tool. A lot of math and geometry was applied to this one; amazing!
The sculpture's archaeological counter-part, the calendar stone, often called a Sun Stone, is not a literal calendar, but an incredibly detailed representation of Aztec cosmology, with a focus on the sun god. See more information here at the Architect of the Capitol's website. It's a complicated history, even the word Aztec requires explanation. However, tasty, tasty chocolate sculptures require no explanation; it was delicious.
Image of Aztec Calendar Stone, now located in Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico. Image Courtesy Library of Congress. Source.
In 2010, to honor the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Natural History Building (which was at that time called the U.S. National Museum; today the National Museum of Natural History), the subject went wider than just Anthropology, to include a recreation of the entire rotunda of the musuem with parts of the exhibits made in cake and candy!
Henry the elephant in the rotunda was carved from solid chocolate with candy cane tusks. The candy exhibits included a mummy, fossils and parts of the ocean hall, as well as many of our most famous objects on exhibit. The giant squid was made of marzipan; the Hope Diamond was made from blue rock candy; the giant fossil shark jaws were made using M&M candy shells embedded in marzipan and orchid. NMNH Osteologist Chris Dudar, helped out by making a fossil fish! Even the columns of the rotunda were included, made from giant candy canes. As a crowning touch, Eric scattered m&m’s on the floor to represent all the people that had visited the NMNH over the years-- one candy for every 1,000 visitors!
In 2009, we were surprised and delighted by edible Moai modeled after the Easter Island statues! This creation showed heads and capstone being quarried and moved to alters. The Moai were made variously from chocolate, marzipan, fudge and Rice Krispy treats.
Luckily for Eric, these Moai were not life-sized, like the Moai that you may have met before when you came to visit us through the Constitution Avenue lobby of the Museum!
Source: Moai or Easter Island Stone Figure. Photo Credit: Chip Clark.
Then came the year of the terracotta warriors! In 2008, Eric painstakingly recreated the terracotta army from the tomb of the first Emperor of China. The horses and 5 different soldier types were cast out of chocolate to make a total of 101 statues.
Luckily these chocolate warriors were not as imposing as the real thing, and were quickly dispatched by the hungry denziens of the Department of Anthropology.
I don't know that I'd be as comfortable attacking these guys! Source: Terra Cotta Soldiers on the March. Photo Credit: (O. Louis Mazzatenta / NGS Image Collection).
In 2007, Eric worked with Lauren Sieg of NMAI to create a Mandela, or Tibetan sand painting. This “painting” was applied to a butter cream frosted cake using a bendy straw to “rasp” the colored sugars into place similar to the way the monks apply the sand in their works. The process took 27 hours.
In 2006, Eric's partner in awesomeness, Lauren Sieg, took the cake, by leading the design on this Southwestern black-on-white inspired cake. Similar designs were found all around the southwest, especially in the Mongollon cultural area. Here are some examples of the related Mimbres pottery in NMNH. The "seeds" in the top of this cake are chocolate covered sunflower seeds.
In 2005, the Haida Chocolate House, complete with totem poles, made everyone want to move in! The interior of the house was made with the same architectural details as real Haida houses. Notice the freshly-caught chocolate fish laid out to dry. The Haida Nation is located primarily in British Columbia, with some territory in Southeastern Alaska.
Finally, the year this amazing cake-venture began was 2004, when Eric debuted the Mississippian Temple Mound archaeological site under excavation. This tableau was made from 14 separate cakes (notice the marble cake strata in the excavated portions) and blue Jell-O for the river. The excavation is taking place in the foreground and features screen, backdirt pile, shovel tarp and tarp weights, as well as a field table with pith helmet, trowel and Brunton compass. In summary: it was awesome; well, except for people's need to touch the Jell-O river to find out what it was made of, according to one informant I talked to! We were going to eat that, people! :)
So, which one is your favorite? Any bets on what Eric will make this year? CONTEST TIME! Please make your guesses for which archaeological site or artifact Eric will make this year, below in the comment section, and I will tweet the 2013 cake on Thursday, the 19th!
To the *first* correct guesser, we will send a free copy of the Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 13: Plains, and Volume 17: Languages! The volumes represent an amazing amount of Smithsonian scholarship. We hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at our annual departmental potlatch. I personally can’t wait for Bill Fitzhugh’s oyster soup. Happy Holidays everyone, and see you next year.
By: Meghan Mulkerin, made possible by Eric Hollinger and Lauren Sieg's boundless creativity!