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A feast for the eyes

by Jennifer Johnson,

Marcella Kriebel ’07 at her art studio in Washington, D.C.

It was the kind of recognition some artists would dream of. 

In November, at a small, socially-distanced outdoor market in downtown Washington, D.C., then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris bought the artwork of Marcella Kriebel ’07. Harris, who was supporting Small Business Saturday, spent some time at Kriebel’s booth, asking about her work. 

“It’s very exciting that the first female VP owns my art,” she said. 

Vice president and husband visit holiday market
In November, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, visited Kriebel’s booth at an outdoor holiday market in downtown Washington, D.C.

Although she was working at her retail studio during Harris’ visit, it didn’t subdue her enthusiasm. The big moment was also not the first for Kriebel, an illustrator and author of two cookbooks who credits her career to the experience and encouragement she received at Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA). 

“The museum was integral to honing skills related not only to what I was studying, but also implementing them in the real world,” she said.

Finding a focus

Kriebel wanted a career that was creative, multifaceted and culturally-focused. Drawn to Willamette University’s strong programming and connection to HFMA, she double-majored in studio art and anthropology

Kriebel found what she needed and then some. Professors in the anthropology department — Peter Wogan, Rebecca Dobkins and Professor Emeritus Pam Moro — gave her a framework to understand cultural anthropology that later informed her portfolio. A class trip with Wogan to Oaxaca, Mexico, exposed her to Zapotec culture and art while offering her opportunities to sharpen her Spanish, which she honed in Ecuador during study abroad and again during post-graduate travel to Latin America. 

Her years working for HFMA as an intern and work study student provided a solid foundation for her career. One summer she registered a stone tool collection for an anthropology project led by Dobkins. After Kriebel graduated, she became an assistant to HFMA’s preparator, installing exhibitions and managing the museum’s large collection of Pacific Northwest Art. Preparators Keith Lachowicz and David Anderson, who died in 2016, were instrumental to her undergraduate experience, she said. 

Hands-on experience at HFMA isn’t rare. Students frequently catalogue artworks from the permanent collection, write museum labels, learn how to properly handle art and install exhibitions. 

“The work experience at Hallie Ford definitely outweighed any post university art job I may have received at other fine arts universities, thanks to the breadth of museum experience I gained during that period of time” she said. 

New chapter

Her connection to the museum — as well as her decision to study abroad — changed her life, she said. 

At the suggestion of Jonathan Bucci, her mentor and curator of collections and exhibitions at HFMA, Kriebel applied to and received an internship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C.

Directly applying the skills she learned at HFMA, she worked at the Smithsonian’s exhibitions department in 2009, installing artwork and working closely with registrars to transport and archive it. That experience led to a job at an art services company, installing exhibitions and training as a mount-maker. 

When Kriebel lost the job in 2012, she turned to a project she had longed to complete — an illustrated cookbook featuring dishes she learned about in Latin America. She knew food was an excellent way to relate to people and understand its culture, so she transformed several sketchbooks, journals and recipes she’d recorded during her travels into a book reflecting the cuisine of seven countries. 

One successful Kickstarter campaign later, she self-published the book, “Mi Comida Latina: Vibrant, Fresh, Simple, Authentic.” In 2015, a publisher picked it up, giving her widespread recognition. The following year, her publisher proposed a second book that became “Comida Cubana: A Cuban Culinary Journey,” a mix of recipes, history, cultural background and first-person storytelling. A series of food-related prints launched after that book — what she calls an “illustrated feast” of edibles ranging from bright botanicals to colorful cucurbitaceae — that sold well online and at farmers markets. 

Kriebel holds print of a cheese board
Kriebel holds a print of a cheese board Harris purchased at the market.

Kriebel has been self-employed ever since. Her prints have expanded to a growing line of kitchen towels and greeting cards, and she now offers online art workshops, and collaborates with chefs on illustrated recipes and is committed to collaborating with humanitarian organizations including the nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. Recently, she interviewed Dolores Huerta, the famed social justice activist who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, on Instagram after featuring Huerta in a calendar she designed. All profits from this calendar go to Huerta’s community organizing nonprofit.

Kriebel plans to continue forming new partnerships with humanitarian causes and supporting nonprofits through her artwork. 

“It’s really satisfying to create art that makes people smile and also gives back,” she said. 

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