July 23, 2009
Chew on This
Roanoke man entertains library-goers with masticated artwork.
by Marie French
Oblivious to the remnants of an acceptable-sized bubble on his jaw, Jamie Marraccini, 39, continued to explain the how-to of his favorite hobby after demonstrating his bubble-blowing skills. He waxed poetic on the importance of the six things he looks for in a gum: chewability, tasteability, bubblability, rollabilitiy, agreeability, spreadability and, most importantly for a discerning gum artist, color.
"If you donít choose the right gum," said Marraccini, "It might look like itís decaying right on your art."
Marraccini has trouble throwing things, especially gum, out. So instead of sticking the gum under a desk or dropping it on the sidewalk, he puts it to use as a medium for art. Using anywhere from several hundred to nearly 5,000 pieces of gum, Marraccini creates reliefs and sculptures of surprising detail.
Despite the oddity of using something thatís been chewed and spat out, Marraccini said he elicits negative reactions only once in a while. "People appreciate it for being different," he said.
Marraccini, a native of Roanoke, is happy to share his passion for gum with open events at several library systems across the state. "I enjoy it when others want to teach or display gum art," said Marraccini. " I feel like I am influencing a generation."
On Thursday, July 16, he made a presentation explaining gum art and how to make it to a group of kids gathered at Pohick Library.
Ingrid Bowers, the associate branch manager at Pohick, attended the presentation. "I loved the program," said Bowers. "I thought he was very creative."
Marraccini was happy to share his passion for gum with open events at several libraries in the Fairfax County Public Library system. He made a PowerPoint presentation explaining gum art and how to make it to a group of children gathered at Pohick Regional Library.
Marraccini emphasized the importance of chewing the gum until all flavor was gone ó a process that takes at least 15 minutes. Bowls of warm water were located at each table, and he explained how to use the water to soften the gum. Beyond that, it was all a matter of chewing enough gum and then spreading it on poster board Marraccini provided.
Marraccini gave the poster board, with a design on one side, and a set of instructions to each attendee. The materials were part of the Chew by Numbers kit that the entrepreneur invented in 2005. Part of the inspiration for that came from the number of art teachers who wrote asking questions about how to do gum art after seeing it on GumArt.com, the Web site he created in 1998 to display his work.
Although Marraccini has had success with his Chew by Numbers kits, which are only available online at ChewbyNumbers.com, heís not quite ready to quit his day job as a chief operating officer yet. "Gum is not my livelihood, itís still a hobby," said Marraccini.
The artist has received compliments from parents who appreciate the individuality and affordability of the Chew by Numbers kits as birthday gifts, but he admitted that not all moms approve. "Letís just say that three-quarters of moms agree that Chew by Numbers is a good idea, but the other 25 percent really disagree," he said.
Although Marraccini has had offers for his completed work and commissions, he is leery of parting with his artwork. After all, he started making the art because he hated to throw away his gum. "Itís hard for me to make the decision to part with the art," said Marraccini. "Maybe when I fill the whole house, then Iíll be forced to sell some of it."
Marracciniís love affair with gum started when he was very young and he remembers that he could never get enough. In high school, he began saving his gum by sticking it on his locker.
His peers appreciated his choice of locker decorations and in college, Marraccini stuck each piece of gum as he finished it on a poster board.
Those early pieces are more random, with less of a central design. The colors are less vivid. As Marraccini has experimented with different kinds of gum, his palette has expanded considerably. Marraccini believes that the way his art has changed the most is in the color and the way he likes to make his "reliefs" pop out more.
Due to the suggestion of the owner of a gallery at which he showed his work, Marraccini has branched out to try sculptures, which take longer because of the increased surface area. Both sculptures and reliefs are marked by the exaggerated features of the characters depicted, which Marraccini said is a hallmark of his art that he does not expect to change. Nor does he have any expectations that his medium would change. "I decided a long time ago that I am purely a gum artist," said Marraccini.
With the copious amount of gum he uses in his pieces, itís too much to expect that he could chew all of it himself. Although he estimates that he alone has chewed about 50,000 pieces of gum in his lifetime, he does sometimes get friends of neighbors to do the jaw work and then uses warm water to work the gum.
"I donít chew other peopleís gum. Ever. I might play with it, but I donít chew it," said Marraccini.
Each of the Chew By Numbers kits comes with a numbered board and lots of gum and costs $14.95.