About the contributor: Rebecca Kelly is Conor Broderick’s aunt. She is a New York City choreographer, founder of the Rebecca Kelly Ballet, and Artistic Director of the Tahawus Cultural Center, in Au Sable Forks, NY.
For my nephew Conor, an artist whose work is featured in PAC’s online gallery, 2017 topped off with an invitation (and rush deadline) to design a menu cover for EDWINS Restaurant of Cleveland, OH, which was being highlighted for a significant awards dinner at the James Beard Foundation in NYC.
The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.
The EDWINS Restaurant website describes EDWINS’ Founder and CEO, Brandon Edwin Chrostowski, as being “on a mission to change the face of re-entry in the United States. In 2007, he founded EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. His belief that ‘every human being regardless of their past has the right to a fair and equal future’ is what drove the creation of EDWINS.” EDWINS draws diners for its lauded classic French fare, but the best things to come out of its kitchen may be the formerly incarcerated adults who receive hospitality and culinary training through the eatery’s Leadership Institute, 95% of whom have been able to secure employment after graduation.
Brandon reached out to Wendy at PAC about his “art for dinner” menu concept, saying, “We’ve been invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC, one of the highest honors in the culinary world. When cooking here we also provide the menu. And for the front of the menu I’m looking to feature a work of art. The night will be filled with decadent French food, wine and of course our mission. Along with our restaurant and training center on the outside we also have programs in thirteen prisons. In all my time I have yet to see art like I see on your site, and I am hoping that you could help me find an artist for the art work for the front of the menu.”
On December 18, Wendy passed along the opportunity to design a menu cover to Conor and other artists whose work is shown in the PAC gallery. The deadline was for the finished work to arrive by January 5. I really wasn’t sure if Conor would take on the challenge — particularly at this complicated and dark time of year. The holiday period is tough enough for many people. Suddenly Conor would be dealing with an outside deadline. Incarceration makes the time pass differently — days and weeks merge or stretch into unmeasurable spans. His art room suddenly had limited access due to the holiday schedules of correction officers. The mail room was only open one day a week to send larger packages.
Painting has had the most tremendous impact on Conor. At first, possibly it was a release, a way to pass time, but it has grown into something more like a companion, and conversation, a passion, a window into a new world. Conor was always artistic, studying drawing, painting and design, in high school under the guidance of a beloved teacher. But in more recent years, as he tackled watercolor he eagerly acquired new skills.
Watercolor is complex because it requires a great deal of forethought and planning. His growing techniques in this medium are self-taught. His grand-father and another adult friend, both artists, mentor him through the mail.
In the fall, Conor began to take a college distance learning program to complete his interrupted Associates Degree. In addition to courses in Business and Sociology, he is taking a course called Exploring Art: A Global, Thematic Approach. The resulting grade on his first paper was an A! The prison also asked him to design and teach a course in watercolor painting in the spring.
Conor said yes to the menu challenge! He managed to get his work into the mail on January 3rd. He thought to send me the USPS tracking number, so I would know when it could arrive. But then it waited in the prison for two days, and afterwards must have traveled by pony express. Or maybe it was the East Coast snow storm. It was ten days before it finally arrived. Meanwhile Brandon was as calm and encouraging as could be throughout my updates about missing mail. He simply said, “I love beating the odds.” But I was on tenterhooks.
Finally, on the afternoon of Saturday the 12th, the artwork arrived! Conor wrote: “My menu was a combination of oil pastel, watercolor, ink, ink pencils, as well as a varnish (on the knife and spoon). I used a picture you took (of Carnegie Hall) in Manhattan for the perspective.” The result was a looming cityscape with a gleaming knife and spoon in the foreground. The towering buildings and walls were painted in shades of browns, blues and grays, illuminated by a yellow, ochre, and rose sky. Brandon wrote, “Amazing,” when he received the design.
January 17, 2018. On the day of the event, we met Brandon to pick up a sample menu, and received a quick tour of the James Beard House. The site was a narrow brownstone in the West Village, with an impressive walled garden, terrace and dining rooms. Its basement is devoted to a surprisingly compact kitchen and receiving room. The atmosphere was focused and quiet, filled with very busy staff deftly arranging and filling dishes. Passing through the kitchen, and terrace, we were shown the elegant dining rooms upstairs on the first floor.
Brandon told us that they would seat 78 guests that night — quite a few more than expected. All the handsome menu designs (there were six) were bold, vivid, and varied, 13x 16, and printed on a fine heavy linen-vinyl stock, with the hand-printed menu on the backs. All but Conor’s had signage integrated over the design. Perhaps because his design arrived late, there wasn’t time to add logo and names and dates. His menu looked unique.
This holiday season turned out to be a creative period for Conor, which brings to his parents and to all his family peace and pride. We have PAC to thank for connecting Conor to this opportunity!