Charla Franklin considers herself an artist, chef and historian -- in that order. No wonder she's so enamored of her latest long-running project: a celebration of soul food and its place in African-American life.
Since November, Franklin has been hosting special events every ArtHop related to "From Feast to Fork: Celebrating the History of Soul Food," a permanent exhibition at the African American Historical & Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley, 1857 Fulton St. The topic May 5 is sweet potato pie. And, yes, if you play your cards right, you'll get a sample.
"At my ArtHop event," she says with a laugh, "you don't get wine and cheese."
The monthly open house of studios and galleries in the downtown and Tower District areas on the first Thursday of the month features dozens of venues, most open from 5 to 8 p.m. (Franklin's soul-food event runs 6-8 p.m.)
The exhibition features eight of Franklin's mixed-media works, which use soul food as a subject -- and as a material, including such items as dried corn and beans. For Art-Hop nights, she has presented cooking demonstrations, "taste-off" competitions and historical presentations.
Her sweet-potato pie segment is a contest, and three local judges will declare a winner.
Franklin describes herself as a "La-La girl" -- she's from New Orleans via Los Angeles -- and has been an artist for 30 years, spending some of that time working in her father's soul-food restaurant. She's lived in Fresno for three years.
Her fascination with the cuisine ranges from its history (she spins a fascinating theory about the appeal of pickled watermelon rinds, which she says contain a high concentration of the ingredient used to make Viagra) to nutrition (the cuisine gets a bad rap because of fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, she says, but just think of all those greens and beans eaten the rest of the time).
Most of all, she's interested in the cultural textures that the food represents. Her art brings all these threads together -- and means a lot to her.
"Sometimes when I complete one of my works, I cry," she says.
The monthly ArtHop series continues through September. Details: (559) 513-6752.
Other ArtHop picks:
Cinco de Mayo and ArtHop meet at the first floor of Fresno City Hall in a show by Fresno artist Rodolfo German. His "Cinco de Mayo" celebration includes performances by Roosevelt High School Marimba Band, flamenco dances by Gloria Verdugo and acoustic guitar music by Cisco.
German's work has been featured in exhibitions at Arte Américas and the Fresno Art Museum.
At Corridor 2122, a group show titled "Recreation" opens just as our society's annual summer wanderlust starts to manifest. Highlights will include Karen Johnston's aluminum-clad, self-designed and hand-built recreation vehicle on display outside the gallery (a merging of design and form into a functional art-work), Leslie Batty's childhood-memory painting depicting her lying on her stomach as she draws a picture, and Julia Bradshaw's ongoing photography exploration into how people arrange their tents when camping, which reveals campers' idealism and desire for seclusion despite close quarters at car-camping sites. The gallery is located at 2122 Mono St. Details: corridor2122.com, (559) 441-0012.
At Gallery 25, 660 Van Ness Ave., longtime Fresno artist Mary Maughelli's exhibition "Evocative Images -- Past and Present" explores images and attitudes of adolescent girls. The exhibition continues through May 29. Details: gallery25.org, (559) 264-4092.
And at the Chris Sorensen Studio Gallery, 2223 S. Van Ness Ave., "Textile Visions" features work by Kerby C. Smith and Lura Schwarz Smith. The show continues through May 26. Details: cmsartstudio.com, (559) 237-4934.