Out of Africa and Into Our Genuine Story

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 2.12.54 PMWhether chef, photographer, writer or painter, what defines our art is the story we tell with it. If you let them, the flavors on the tables at our restaurants will take you to Homestead, the Gulf, Italy or India, while the art on the walls of our Private Dining Room at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, will take you to New York City.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 6.51.49 PMBeth O’Donnel’s The Highline Series tells of the various shades of crazy that one sees on any given day from the High Line, a public park built on a rail line elevated above Manhattan’s West Side, but that’s only the first page.

Through layers of encaustic wax she writes the rest of the story, finishing it with black paint that gets wiped away, leaving markings of depth and texture that she can carve into. Just as her life is her work, and her work is her art and they all merge, Beth fell in love with the idea of merging photography and paint and encaustic wax to create these storyboards. On the northern wall of the PDR is a piece titled Kibera Kids which takes us from Miami to the High Line and then through a window into the slums of Nairobi where a smile shines back at us.

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In 1997 Beth traveled to Africa on safari. “I fell in love with it,” she said. She returned in 1998 and then in 1999 she went back again, this time to meet Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, in order to photograph African women for a book about women making a difference at the grass roots level. Ms. Maathai quickly pointed Beth towards the women still rooted within these African communities. “I was able to get out and go to the University of Kansas and get my degree,” she said, “but there are so many amazing women living there in the slums and they’re the ones that should be getting the attention. They represent the thousands and thousands of women doing that kind of work all over the world.” So she took Beth to them, and that day was when she photographed the faces that brighten Kibera Kids.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.06.15 PM“I spent the night in that slum right there,” Beth said pointing to a photo as I flipped through the finished product, Angels in Africa, “as a journalist or photojournalist you have to experience that. I spent months and months and months in that slum and in Kibera, they are the largest slums in the world.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.08.38 PMNow Beth sits on the board of the African Rainforest Conservancy and supports the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group – teaching villagers how to restore the forest, how to plant nurseries, what trees to cut , what trees not to cut so as is quoted by one of the amazing women in the book, “there might one day be trees blanketing these mountains as far as the eye can see.” As there once were. As there should be.

photo (65)Today, Beth’s first Chelsea Art District gallery show opens at the Birnam Wood/ Galleries. We’re proud to be showing her work, and we’re proud of the work that she does, which is why when Tamara Schwartz suggested her art go up at our flagship we jumped at the opportunity. Just as our chefs use ingredients to create, it is with passion that each expression of Beth’s art comes to be. “Live your dream, don’t dream your life,” she said. “It’s got to be like that.” It really does.