"If you tap into what made you happy as a kid, it probably will make you happy now." Clare Crespo '86
As a young child, Episcopal graduate Clare Crespo loved playing with food, creating worlds and making shoebox dioramas. She also enjoyed cooking Louisiana cuisine with her dad and grandmother. As an adult, Crespo is still doing all of these things with enthusiasm and joy and she has even made a successful career out of her passion.
According to Clare’s website, she is a fantasist. She says that means that people hire her to put fantasy into their spaces, with her art adding an element of warmth, magic and heart. “I want my stuff to make people smile,” she says from her studio in California.
One look at Clare’s bright, creative work and you can’t help but smile. Clare’s creations include everything from crocheted oysters and poboys to dioramas that tell the story of fine jewelry and even a necklace-wearing, stuffed coyote. Clare’s first cookbook, The Secret Life of Food, launched her into the public eye. The book features creations such as an aquarium made of Jell-O and flip flops crafted from potatoes and string beans. The food is presented in artistic, imaginative settings and not a traditional kitchen. “I’m not a chef,” says Clare. “I just used food as my art supply. I’m an artist always.” The Secret Life of Food was a hit. National television talk show hosts took notice of Clare’s unique approach to food preparation and she began making appearances across the country. “These experiences opened up a lot of wild jobs for me,” she says, reflecting on opportunities to work with national brands, such as Duncan Hines and Breyers.
After this initial success, Clare was ready to tackle something a little smaller – the cupcake. Before cupcakes were cool, Clare was making these treats in a way that fooled the taste buds. She made cupcakes that looked like hamburgers, sushi and even cottages in a fairy garden. Her second cookbook, Hey, There Cupcake! was a successful second act to the first. Next up, a children’s television show.
Clare had dreamed of creating her own children’s program since finishing graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts. After several networks tried to change her original idea, she took the project on herself. The YummyFun Kooking Show ultimately came together in a grassroots effort in which her husband built the set, her friend served as the stylist and her neighbors all chipped in. “It was so fun, so sweet and so many kids loved it,” says Clare. “It was a pure project from my heart.” Episodes of the show are available here, on YouTube and at museum gift shops across the country. Even with such tremendous success, a family of her own and a supportive network in California, Clare’s compass still points home.
Clare grew up in Baton Rouge. She remembers baking Christmas cookies with family and she remains passionate about Louisiana food and culture. She still returns home as often as possible. This love for Louisiana and attachment to home can be seen and tasted in many of Clare’s pieces. “It’s hard to leave Louisiana,” she says. “It’s so specific, so comfortable and unlike anywhere else. Often my creations tap back to roots.” Her yearly calendar, Hurray Today, always features a nod to Mardi Gras and dates such as the New Orleans Jazz Fest are prominently featured. Her cookbooks also include family recipes, such as her grandmother’s Milky Way cake or red velvet cake.
“If you believe in it and you breathe into that dream, it can come true,” says Clare.
Clare enjoys connecting with others and encouraging them to follow their dreams, no matter how unconventional they may seem. She remembers telling her story to a Girl Scout troop years ago. “That can be a job?” she remembers the wide-eyed crowd asking. Whether it’s a troop or a museum workshop, Clare’s message is always the same. “Listen to your voice because that’s what’s going to guide you,” she says. Clare says while her own journey has been fun and immensely satisfying, there have also been challenges. “It’s hard because there’s no path, no mentors,” she says. “You’re just forging ahead blindly.” This commitment to a dream and the confidence required to make that dream a reality just come natural to Clare and she hopes the next generation of artists can do the same.
It’s good to know that artists like Clare Crespo are sharing their creativity and magic with others. Congratulations on your success, Clare. Episcopal is proud to have played a role.