The flavor of fine art

It was art on demand — times 18.

Taking inspiration from the string band, the flowers and the food, 18 artists created one-of-a-kind, one-hour pieces at A Taste of Ashland's opening gala Friday night.

There were paintings and pastels, drawings and assemblages — and plenty of people to admire them at the first event of the 20th annual weekend-long gathering that celebrates local art, food and wine.

About 100 guests packed the Ashland Springs Hotel Ballroom to watch the artists at work, while eating delicate deserts — embracing the "Eat Desserts First" theme of the evening.

Many of the artists, meanwhile, had stomachs full of butterflies because of the one-hour time limit and the number of spectators, they said.

"I'm nervous," said 18-year-old Cydney Wong, one of the youngest artists on display Friday, who was drawing a dragon wrapping around a warrior. "It's really exciting, but I want to feel like I'm doing a good job."

Except for a chocolate painting — made using a canvas of white chocolate and tinted cocoa butter "paint" — that was raffled off at the end of the evening, all of the works of art will be hung in Ashland galleries this weekend as part of a silent auction benefiting the Ashland Gallery Association, which organizes the weekend.

Jeff Shepherd, the chocolate painter, was working even faster than most of the artists — because he didn't want his cocoa butter to harden before he had a chance to spread it on the white chocolate.

"Most people don't get a chance to see me doing this, because I'm usually doing it late at night," he said, brush in hand.

Shepherd, who owns the Central Point chocolate company Lillie Belle Farms, typically sells his edible chocolate paintings for about $75 to $150, he said.

All of the artists at the event donated their time and supplies — but they can elect to keep 30 percent of the profits from the sale of their pieces from the gala.

Watching the artists at work left many of the guests awed, they said.

"I just think this is wonderful, what she is doing and so quickly!" said Hugo resident Carol R. Smith, as she watched Leah Fanning Mebane paint John Coltrane from a photograph of the musician. "I'm standing here with my mouth open."

Nearby, nine-year-old Calvin Schaefer was watching Wong sketch out her dragon. "I think it's shocking that they come every year to do this drawing and stuff," he said. "I am inspired."

Calvin, cupcake in hand, said he was definitely enjoying A Taste of Ashland.

"I think that this is a great idea to do every year, for people to come together and listen to music and watch artists. And the food is wonderful."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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