“Historical Fiction: Faces of Claussen’s Bakery”
Exhibiting July-Sept 2021
This exhibit was inspired by the location of Sift Gallery. When I heard that the various rooms in the building
are named for the original bakery rooms, I was immediately intrigued with the history of the place and the
people that worked there and started my research there. Claussen’s opened the Greenville bakery in August
of 1930 and proudly invited the Greenville public to see their fine European machinery and ovens. News
articles featured the people that ran the bakery. The Master Baker, Joe Gagnon, stands proud beside his all
dressed in white bakers holding a certificate award. Ladies who cut and wrapped finished products made
the Greenville News. Local Girl Scouts appeared standing in front of the bakery with a sign proclaiming
60,000 Girl Scout cookies were made by Claussen’s.
After completing research on Claussen’s, I let my imagination have a turn. The people in this Bakery took on roles that could be easily interpreted in other environments so the “fiction” portion of the show was born. The Master Baker became the “Maestro” of the Orchestra. The Dietician-Hostess, Ms. Redfern?? became a 19th century garbed woman daring you to mess with her event. The Ladies Who Cut and Wrap inspired a modern lady in high heels wielding large and sharp scissors.
Claussen’s Bakery touted the cutting edge ingredients it used to produce its baked goods. Crisco was a new product that made cakes light and fluffy without the aftertaste of lard. C.F. Sauer spices and extracts, top of the line products, were used and featured by Claussens. . Claussen’s bread was delivered by trucks daily to all of the grocers. When the loaves became “sliced,” the birth of sandwich bread changed the daily lunch.
Bakeries like Claussen’s were a foundational part of a by-gone era. Serving as an alternative to all home baked goods but before the rise of the megafactory bakeries, local bakers made your bread and cakes. If you needed bread, cookies or a cake, the Claussen’s Hostess would help you plan your event. Claussen’s marketed daily to get Greenvillians to see that purchasing baked goods rather than baking yourself was going to make life not only easier but also more delicious and healthy.
Consider the ease: Just call “2515” and place an order - pick up was available at 400 Augusta St!
Girl Scout Cookies
36 x 48, oil on board
Before the Girl Scouts consolidated production at two mega-bakeries in Richmond and St. Louis, the cookies were baked at local bakeries like Claussen’s in Greenville. Claussen’s was founded in Charleston in 1841, and Greenville was Claussen’s fourth location when it opened in 1930. Claussen’s of Greenville baked 60,000 cookies annually for Girl Scouts of Greenville and surrounding areas. Claussen’s used sturdy Dodge trucks to deliver the goods.
36 x 48, oil on board
Supervised by Joe Gagne, Claussen’s in Greenville boasted teams of bakers in Charleston, Augusta, Columbia and Greenville. Gagne was charged with maintaining quality and production of Claussen’s bread and “delightfully different” cakes. The production men, dressed in traditional white uniforms and white hats, greased the pans, mixed the dough, and formed and baked the cakes and bread. Proficient commercial baking required culinary and chemistry skills, as well as commercial ovens providing uniform heat to all sides to raw loaves traveling on swinging trays.
16 Ladies Who Cut and Wrap
36 x 48, oil on board
The sixteen young ladies in the uniforms and caps are responsible for wrapping and packing “Claussen’s Delightfully Different Cakes.” The ladies for this work are carefully selected and required to be in spotless white uniforms at all times. They are responsible for cutting into various sizes the thirty two varieties of Claussen’s cakes. After cutting, the cakes are wrapped in printed wrappers and packed into various size boxes for distribution. According to the Greenville News, “The body requires sweets and there is no more agreeable way of meeting this requirement than by eating cake.”
20 x 24, oil on board
Inspired by Joe Gagne, Claussen’s master baker, who started as a pan greaser and retired as head of Production Department. After his humble start at Claussen’s, Gagne attended the Dunwoody Institute of Baking in Minneapolis, graduating with high honors. “Joe,” as he was known in the shop, studied bread baking in Europe, and chemistry and engineering locally to enhance his professional skills. He was responsible for creating many of “Claussen’s Delightfully Different Cakes.”
24 x24, oil on board
The C.F. Sauer Co. of Richmond was wildly successful selling high quality extracts and seasonings. Here two employees sort Indonesian nutmeg for production. Not a nut at all, but rather a seed, nutmeg is prized for it’s warm, slightly sweet, and nutty flavor that’s perfect in baked goods, custards, coffee, and creamy sauces. Claussen’s Bakery promoted its use of Sauer’s famous spices. In 1929, Sauer purchased Duke’s Products of Greenville, maker of Duke’s mayonnaise.
30 x 30, mixed media on board
An essential ingredient of cookies, cakes and pie crusts, Crisco was created in 1911 and soon became the go-to alternative to pork lard for generations of American cooks. More economical and longer lasting than lard, Crisco also lacked the noticeable pork taste of lard. Its inventor, Proctor & Gamble, coyly concealed Crisco’s main ingredient, cottonseed oil, and instead labeled it as “vegetable shortening.” Within five years, Americans were buying 60 million cans of Crisco annually.
24 x 24, oil on board
Claussen’s baked thirty-two varieties of cake and marketed them as “Claussen’s Delightfully Different Cakes.” The company also stated in a Greenville News circular that cake should be considered a staple food, a necessity rather than a luxury. Touting cake as a health food, the News reported that when one eats cake you get sugar, flour, eggs and butter - all “flesh and bone builders.”
It’s All Vanilla
24 x 48, mixed media on board
A featured ingredient of Claussen’s Tasty Cakes, vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of alcohol and water. An essential ingredient in many baked goods, vanilla extract adds a deep, complex flavor. Most vanilla beans come from Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti. Claussen’s advertised its use of Sauer’s extracts for its baked goods. C.F. Sauer was a pharmacist from Richmond, Virginia, and his company was known as the first to provide pure flavoring extracts in grocery stores for home cooks.
30 x 30, mixed media on board
Claussen’s baked a variety of deli breads, but their Thin King Sandwich bread was a best seller. Claussen’s used a European machine that could wrap one loaf of bread every second. Many Greenville High alumni remember the smell of bread filling the air around the school. Legend has it bakers would sometimes throw warm loaves of bread from the back doors to students walking home on the railroad tracks.
24 x 36, oil on board
This painting is inspired by George Claussen’s “original’ idea of employing “a lady who could assist the housewives with their problems.” Mrs. Mary Babbitt had the title of Dietician/Hostess and her work was deemed “beneficial to milady in deciding her menus for bridge luncheons, teas, parties… or entertainment…”
Mrs. Babbitt Got a Fur Coat
20x20, oil on board
This image is from a Greenville News photograph of Mrs. Mary Babbitt, the Claussen employee described in the companion piece "Hostess." She is reimagined here with a luxurious fur coat likely favored by the ladies she assisted with their menus for social events among the upper crust. Mrs. Babbitt was likely quick to suggest Claussen's goods, but she also had "at her fingertips thousands of recipes" for housewives seeking her help. The News reported she had made a study of modern merchandising methods and advised grocers free of charge.
The Lady Who Cuts and Wraps
30 x 40, oil on board
This is a different take on the Depression era Claussen employees who cut and wrapped baked goods. This thoroughly modern lady has some dangerous shears and she is eyeing a mysterious gift. Inspired by the unusual job title of “Ladies Who Cut & Wrap,” this painting reflects wordplay and also pays homage to the progress of women in the workforce.
Flours and flowers have more in common than you might think. The flour used at Claussen’s Bakery was made by grinding cereal grains into a powder. This flour was then mixed with eggs , milk and sugar to make bread and cakes that tantalized the senses. Flowers, like flour, come from the ground and provide a sensoral feast of color, shape and aroma.
"Flours" of a Different Sort
Roses on Tuesday
24 x 36, oil on canvas
Spring Awakening I
36 x 48, oil on canvas
Spring Awakening II
36 x 36, oil on canvas