Baked into History

SAM Channels The Great British Bake Off with a Victorian Confection Competition

Baked goods are totally a vehicle of radical arts movements—and a beautiful, tasty contest on August 29.

By Sam Jones August 22, 2019

Victoria sponge for a Victorian cake competition, perhaps?

In conjunction with its current exhibition, Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Seattle Art Museum will be celebrating Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Paul Hollywood alike with art, iconic baked goods, and retrospection. 

On August 29, two dozen local bakers will flaunt their edible masterpieces—modeled after the exhibition’s 145-object collection of vibrant, detailed works—with hopes of taking home the title of master baker, Victorian style. Among the 24 gluten geniuses are Shaker and Spear’s Carolynn Spence, Marenka Dobes of Lá Liath Bakery, and Barn and Field’s Jan Smail. 

While the bakes themselves are a mystery, we can certainly speculate among Great British Bake Off go-tos: clotted cream and strawberry jam scones, the checkered marzipan-encrusted Battenberg cake, perhaps trifle or fondant fancies worthy of Mary Berry’s praise. The panel of judges here, though, is a tough crowd with the likes of queen of croissants and Amandine Bakeshop owner Sara Naftaly, bundt and Breton cake connoisseur Rachael Coyle of Coyle’s Bakeshop, and SAM’s European Painting and Sculpture curator, Chiyo Ishikawa. 

Most intriguing are the staggering similarities between this particular snapshot in time and the current reality in Seattle. Characterized by automation apprehension and a return to the artisanal, the Pre-Raphaelites and Arts and Crafts movements were a response to increasing class disparities, a startling change in the urban landscape, and a surge in technological focus.

The contest's goods are, sadly, for looking only, but attendees can see themselves to treats available for purchase from the museum's restaurant. Whether your motives for attendance are fueled by an insatiable sweet tooth or history-nerd proclivities, be sure to stick around after perusing the exhibit for the awards ceremony at 7pm.

The Great Victorian Radicals Bake Off
Aug 29, 6–9pm, Seattle Art Museum, Free (or $30, for entrance to the exhibit)

Editor's Note: This story was updated August 26 to reflect that food at the event is not, in fact, free.

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