The Hippo


Apr 26, 2019








Katherine Donovan and some of her New Hampshire-themed chocolatey art. Kelly Sennott photo.

Chocolatey art

Where: Dancing Lion Chocolate, 917 Elm St., Manchester
When: Hours are Monday 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Other events: Dancing Lion Chocolate is also hosting a “Life as Art” series through September. On Thursday, Aug. 14, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., artist Kerry Harman will host a chocolate (clay) bonbon-making class for kids. On Thursday, Aug. 28, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., artist Ellen Davison will present her art in addition to a silk-painting demonstration. Monica Leap, Studio 550 owner, has an event at Dancing Lion Thursday, Sept. 25, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Fine art to fine chocolate
Dancing Lion’s artist in residence learns to paint on food

By Kelly Sennott

 The way Dancing Lion Chocolate’s owner hired his newest artist in residence was “completely serendipitous,” he said. 

They met in May, when owner and chocolatier Richard Tango-Lowy was working behind the counter and soon-to-be New Hampshire Institute of Art grad Katherine Donovan was sitting at a table with a couple of school friends, talking about a painting class.
They were in the right place at the right time; Dancing Lion, known just as much for its artisan chocolate taste as for its fine art aesthetic, just happened to be in need of an artist in residence. Cindy Rizzo, who’s been with the company since its inception, had taken some time off to be home with her new baby.
Donovan, the senior of the group, volunteered immediately. The painting major brought in her resume and began working soon after.
“We [Tango-Lowy and Rizzo] did a lot of commissions together. Some of them were very spectacular. After Cindy had her baby, Katherine wandered in. I see her going in a different direction than Cindy,” Tango-Lowy said via phone, while Donovan worked in the background, readying work for her July 31 show, her first chocolate art reception.
“Cindy’s work is very precise. It has a certain darkness to it that I really like. She’s bubbly and blonde and looks young, yet her art has a real edge to it that’s almost nerve-racking,” Tango-Lowy said. 
He mentioned a large piece Rizzo created for New Hampshire pianist Gregg Pauley during a concert celebrating his endeavor to perform all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. She made an exquisite portrait of Beethoven pieced together like a bonbon mosaic.
“I wasn’t really looking for anybody. When Cindy was no longer available, I figured I’d just keep my eyes open. … When I looked at Katherine’s work, I thought, there’s something there, there’s potential to do much more sophisticated things,” Tango-Lowy said. “There are nuances in her style that caught my attention.”
She showed him her NHIA senior project, a collection that consisted of feathers painted on old scraps of wood. The paintings are so detailed that, at first glance, it appears that feathers are real and attached with masking tape. 
“I like the unexpected. It’s nice to have pretty piece, but it’s more interesting to me if there’s something unexpected about it, something that makes you have to step back and think about it for a little bit,” Tango-Lowy said.
The past couple of months led Donovan to painting New Hampshire birch trees, bears and Mount Washington panoramas that take up three full chocolate bars. Also among the work created for her first show was an “Origins of Cacao” series, which highlights the locations from which Tango-Lowy gets his Dancing Lion ingredients, including Vietnam, Madagascar, Ghana and Guatemala. Her pieces look like miniscule oil or acrylic paintings, quite detailed even on the tiny scale, completed with teeny acrylic brushes.
A trained fine artist in oil and watercolor, Donovan said painting on chocolate has required a bit of adjustment, but she’s learning exponentially (for example, she’s learned to take advantage of the free drinking chocolate she gets while working).
Being a clean painter is critical when you’re working with food, and so is knowing how colors will look when transferred onto chocolate. The paint is edible and mixes like acrylic, but it tastes like nothing so it doesn’t affect the food.
“Thankfully, chocolate comes in different colors,” Donovan said, picking up a mountain landscape painted on white chocolate. “With the lighter colors, it definitely transfers in a different way.”
The 22-year-old is looking forward to upcoming commission work; this fall, Dancing Lion will build chocolate art for a wedding, for the Manchester City Library, and for another of Gregg Pauley’s Beethoven sonata concerts, to name just a few large projects.
She thinks she’ll stick around for at least a year, and she hopes to explore more abstract routes and learn, of course, much more about chocolate. 
“You taste with your eyes first. We’ve always known this,” Tango-Lowy said. “But this adds to the experience of art itself. … When you go to a gallery and see a new piece of art, you have an experience at that moment. You will never have that experience again, because you’ve already had it once. … We take that to a different level here.” 
As seen in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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