In the same way that making a good piece of art can tie a room together, making a well-baked cake can mark a special occasion as a celebration. Local artist and baker Shannon Lewis Africa does both and finds fulfillment in making things her community can enjoy.
Using paper is one of her earliest memories of making art.
“When I was a kid, my dad found a bunch of Budweiser fliers, so there was this big stack of paper and we would draw on the backs. I was drawing a fish and I remember looking up at my dad smiling at me — and I can see why because it is pretty cute. I drew the fish with eyebrows,” Lewis Africa recalled. These days, she creates two- and three-dimensional paper cutouts and uses water-based inks to create her artwork.
When Lewis Africa moved to Port Townsend more than 40 years ago, she really got into working with paper.
“Maureen Piper used to be my neighbor, and she did art classes. She had materials that I did not have access to before, like a big printing press and water-based inks,” she said.
“One of her teaching methods was to make monoprints, and she used that so you wouldn’t be afraid of paper. So I cut paper shapes out, print them, and then cut the paper left over that could then be layered on top of monoprints or as something else,” Lewis Africa said.
She still uses the water-based Speedball inks that Piper introduced her to years ago.
Fish are still a common theme in her work, as well as birds and her environment. Her lifetime spent near the water has been a fundamental influence on her work.
“One thing that I’m really interested in capturing are the lines in water or air. Even though it’s invisible, moving air or wind – it has lines in it because it’s directional,” she said.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, art — and the making of things – were commonplace throughout her upbringing.
“When I was little, my mom, Duayne Lewis, was so good, she would take us to museums all the time,” she recalled. “There were five of us kids and we would take the bus and go walk around museums and look at stuff. Also, there were art books around the house and we would just sit down and leaf through them.”
Lewis Africa’s work has been shown locally at Seal Dog Coffee Bar, Northwind Gallery, Elevated Ice Cream, and Uptown Dental.
“I like the idea of showing at a place where local people go. What is important and interesting to me is the people that I know see it. That’s the most intriguing,” Lewis Africa said, “even though I love it when strangers buy my artwork.”
Another of her creative mediums is baking and designing cakes. She has worked in “a bunch of different bakeries” but got the idea for ‘Seashell Cakes’ while working at the now-closed Sweet Laurette Café & Bistro.
“The owner was baking cakes for people, and I thought, oh that’s how you do it. I decided if she ever leaves, I was going to do that — I didn’t want to be in competition. I guess I didn’t think there was enough business for two people,” Lewis Africa said.
When she was trying to decide where to bake and be able to make a profit, Lewis Africa contacted Bob of Bob’s Bakery in Port Townsend, “he suggested I get a Washington State Cottage Industries license, and I did. So I can work in my home kitchen while wearing my leggings, and turn on the TV but not watch it. I can be all comfy.”
Of making cakes, Lewis Africa said: “It’s nice to just make something simple that people like. It gives me some sort of, in my mind, place in my community.”
She recalled a time when a patron came to pick up a cake for his girlfriend.
“He opened up the box and said, ‘Oh, it’s so pretty.’”
“So here is this little cake with flowers on it being held by a guy that was totally dirty from working. Like, what else could you want out of life, really? I mean to be involved in something like that, it’s a little snapshot of life.”
For more information, visit her website at seashellcakes.com.