By Kevin Rector
"We were going for a mosaic idea, and we were looking on the Internet for famous paintings," Zach said. "And then the idea popped into my head to do Mona Lisa."
Hence, "Mona Lisa Pizza," a culinary copy of the famous Renaissance painting by Leonardo da Vinci that Zach, a sixth-grader at Catonsville Middle, and Lucy, a fourth-grader at Hillcrest Elementary, entered in the 15th Annual Edible Art competition at Catonsville High School on March 31.
Immediately recognizable as a Mona Lisa interpretation, the circular pizza took three days to create after an initial mishap, the two Montrose Avenue residents said.
Their first dough base, which they'd made in a rectangle, was eaten by their dog, Sumo.
But they persevered, buying new dough from Scittino's Italian Market in Catonsville and using tooth picks to outline the painting's parameters in the dough.
They crafted Mona Lisa's hair in licorice, her body in cabbage and beef jerky.
Their efforts paid off as the "Mona Lisa Pizza" took first place in the competition's middle school category.
Zach's appreciation was apparent as he jumped up to accept with both fists held high in the air.
Last week's annual Catonsville event, sponsored by the high school's National Art Honor Society members, is all about "the idea of transformation, using everyday products to make art," said Windy Spiridigliozzi, an art teacher at the school and one of the event's organizers.
The event builds on the legacy of Andy Warhol, she said, the famous painter who made Campbell Soup cans into iconic art.
"It's about bringing everyone in the community into the arts," Spiridigliozzi said.
Not far from the "Mona Lisa Pizza," Warhol's influence was evident in Catonsville High senior Abby Wilson's interpretation of Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe.
Wilson recreated Warhol's psychedelic pink, yellow and green Monroe portrait with pink mints, yellow lemon drops and green "winterfresh jellies" on a base layer of peanut butter.
Wilson, who was in the contest for the fourth year in a row, also used a bit of toothpaste for Monroe's teeth.
"It's edible!" she said with a smile as her friends giggled, mocking disapproval.
Other contestants strayed far from popular art to find inspiration from more local settings.
Caitlin Donnelly and Kelsey Votta, both sophomores at Catonsville High, took second place in the high school and community category for their cake-and-graham-cracker-based depiction of historic Ellicott City's Main Street, complete with a train overpass and a black-licorice streetscape.
"We enjoy hanging out in Ellicott City," said Kelsey of their community inspiration.
First place in the high school and community category went to Catonsville High juniors Ellen Skirvin and Katy Shelton for their "Bert and Ernie" busts, made of cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, and various other organic materials.
As an accent to the two Sesame Street characters, Ellen and Katy added Ernie's "rubber ducky" out of a lemon.
Third place in the high school and community category went to Catonsville High junior Emily Nicaise, whose "The Cool Pool Table" entry featured cupcakes decorated to look like pool balls.
The biggest prize of the night, the "People's Choice Award," fittingly went to Catonsville High juniors Jessica Bussard and Ellie Chetelat, whose "Fun Land" creation was easily the largest entry -- unless you count Catonsville senior Mary Chilcoat, who wore a life-size tutu made of Rice Krispie treats.
"Fun Land" featured a mix of ingredients made into various theme park attractions -- including tea cups with pretzel handles, Jello bumper cars, a tortilla-topped merry-go-round and a Fruit-Roll-Up roller coaster -- formed from the seven large cakes and five little ones that Bussard and Chetelat baked themselves.
The entry was partially inspired by Britney Spears' new CD, titled "Circus," Bussard and Chetelat said.
In the middle school category, second place -- after the "Mona Lisa Pizza" -- went to Catonsville Middle School sixth-graders Colin Barnes and Daniel Nicolaus for "One Love," a cake in the form of reggae icon Bob Marley's face.
The pair used chocolate and black licorice for the Marley's dreadlocks, and devil's food cake for his head. Chow mein noodles were used for Marley's curly beard, and red, yellow and green icing gave Marley a cap in the colors of Jamaican culture.
Third place in the middle school category went to Catonsville Middle School seventh-grader Maura Elliott for her elaborate depiction of the Dr. Seuss characters "Thing 1 and Thing 2."
At the elementary school level, first place went to a group of home-schooled first- and second-graders for their creation of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," made in honor of the famous children's book of the same name by Eric Carle that is celebrating its 40th year in publication this year.
The Heritage Instructional Services students meet on Mondays and Wednesdays at St. Timothy's Church on Ingleside Avenue, said Amy Williams, one of the parent tutors.
Second place in the elementary category went to Westchester Elementary School fifth-grader Luc Jeremenko for "Monkey Nut," made of coconut, a peach, peanut butter and Milk Duds.
Third place in the category went to Halethorpe Elementary School fifth-grader Emily Chetelat for "Bolder Beach," made of potatoes, Jello, sugar and beans.
The 14 elementary school entries, 36 middle school entries and 65 high school and community entries produce a grand total of 115 entries in the competition, Spiridigliozzi said.
After the winners were announced, the projects were unceremoniously devoured by hungry and curious attendees of all ages, as is competition custom.
But crowd favorites Bussard and Chetelat, who said they'd already eaten their fair share of sweets while making "Fun Land," passed on taking part in the feast.
"We're sick of sweets for a long time," Chetelat said.
"We need to go through detox," said Bussard.