SHAKESPEARE ONCE said that if you had but only one penny in your trouser pocket, yet wanted to spend it, gingerbread should be the only thing worthy of such a parting.
Kristen Deming would agree, although she has quite a different concept regarding the use of gingerbread than did Shakespeare.
A local artist specializing in what she calls "art to eat," Deming has created caricature cookies. Although edible, they are much more interesting to look at, marvel over, or to use as a conversation item at a dinner party.
"Beautiful, elaborate works of art have been made from ginerbread for 2,500 years," she says. "In fact, gingerbread was used, in art from, to commemorate the birth of Peter the First of Russia."
Deming has adopted the commemorative spirit of an election year to sculpt political caricatures from her family-inherited gingerbread recipe. The Ted Kennedy gingerbread cookie sports a 1980 campaign button and smiles heartily; the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan cookies are amazingly close likenesses.
"We're so inundated with politicians dealing with the grim realities of life, I thought this would be one way to laugh at the seriousness of Washington politics," says Deming, the wife of a foreign service officer and the mother of three children. "Besides, it's a way for me to alleviate some of my own political frustrations."
She also has devised a way for people to alleviate their frustrations toward Iran and the Soviet Union by creating the Ayatollah Khomeni and the Leonid Brezhnev cookie. "This way, we all have a means to bite back," she says with a laugh.
Perhaps the cookie creations are the only plausible means for bringing together Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-tung, the Ayatollah, Brezhnev and President Carter at one table not to mention adding the gingerbread presences of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Ted Kennedy.
She started experimenting with her gingerbread recipe when her husband was stationed in Japan. "I've always been into pleasing our friends with very personal gifts, and that particular Christmas I decided to make our friends' gifts out of gingerbread because it was inexpensive, very American and an extension of my skills as a potter. Plus it was a good way to get the whole family into the holiday spirit."
From that evolved the concept of literary cookies. Deming says she experimented so often with White Rabbits, Alice in Wonderlands, the Cowardly Lion and other literary characters that she actually wore out the springs on her oven door.
To make a batch of a dozen cookies takes her all day. After the gingerbread is made, she places a cutout pattern that she has traced out of a book, atop the dough and using a knife, cuts the figure out. For details, she uses ordinary cooking utensils such as a garlic press for hair and Japanese yakitori sticks for the bodily configurations.
"It's creativity that appeals to me because it is an expression of my self," she says.
Two years ago, Deming's work was displayed at the Fendrick Art Gallery in Georgetown. Her literary cookies were used as Christmas decorations and sold for tree ornaments through the gallery. Since then she has received awards for her edible art and is currently in the process of writing a "how-to" book that will include the patterns she uses for several of the creative cookies.
"I love the color, the look and feel, the texture and the extravagence of the art. It is something that can become such a nice memory, or at the very least, a very interesting conversation piece."
While her husband is working here, Deming wants to continue catering dinner parties, children's parties and possibly embassy affairs. After completing her book, Deming will begin looking for a company that would like to hire her to design a line of cookie cutters.
But she feels the pressure of time. Before long, her husband, Rust, will be posted abroad. "I'd like to leave a legacy of my work after I leave," she says. "And what I will take with me is the very American tradition of gingerbread gifts to be given to our new foreign friends."
Deming has been selling the cookies for $3 to $4.50 a piece through Art to Eat. For orders and further information call 365-0029.