Her hands were poised reverently, her eyes turned softly upward in prayer. But she had a cold, cold heart and everyone knew it.

Two women squatted beside her, soup ladles in hand.

"Keep bailing," said one.

"She's getting shorter," said the other.

And indeed she was. Mary Magdalene, rapidly losing her cool, melted into a brownish mess while the women kept bailing to keep the floor dry.

Donatello, the Italian Renaissance sculptor, carved Mary Magdalene out of wood. Ruth Bolduan decided to use ice.

Growing shorter and shorter with each drop of sweat that fell from her brow. Mary Magdalene shrunk from black. Shoe-string-licorice hair dyed the puddle at her feet a murky brown.

While Mary dripped on the sidelines, about 200 people perspired around her in the two small, hot rooms which comprise the Local 1734 Art Collective. It was "a matter of taste," said the poster advertising the "First Annual Edible Art Event," a benefit for the Connecticut Avenue gallery.

A matter of taste, maybe. A tasty matter, definitely, as more than 75 artists entered their work last weekend in what Phyllis Richman, Washington Post food critic, described as "one of the most delicious displays of food in town."

Richman, hatted, scarved, masked and veiled to conceal her identity, judged the contest in which everyone turned out to be a winner as the feast following the awards presentation proved.

Some of the exhibits may have been tasty, but whether or not they were tasteful was a matter of debate.

Take for example, Chasen Gaver's "Mama Cass Memorial Ham." a ham sandwich (one bite missing) encased in a baggie. Or "Suburban Trick or Treat." an apple with a razor blade jutting from its side, courtesy of Craig Scott Gibson.

And some were, well, works of art. For instance Jill Shapiro's "The Famous Mermaid 'Circe,' Great With Child (Nine Months After Ulysses' Reckless Sailors Crashed Their Ship Into Her Rocky Shores)."

Circe lay there, bathed in a sea of parsley, her voluptuously rotund, honeydew stomach capped with a pimento-olive navel. Apricot breasts; radish-red lips: tumeric-dyed, curly-pasta hair streaming from her pear face. Her lower extremities? Trout.

"I wanted to use a grapefruit for her stomach." Shapiro said, "but they were out of season." She used tumeric because "saffron's too expensive." Oh, the problem of finding art supplies in Washington.

Pam Schilig and Chip Coblyn, both American University design students, entered "Spider and Fly," two stuffed-pepper creatures, which won the "Largest Insect in an Eating Establishment Award." The spider had celerystalk legs and a mushroom head. The fly, lettuce-winged and mushroom-eyed, waited to be devoured.

Why did they decide to enter? This sounded so crazy and there was nothing to do this weekend and since we coludn't afford the $6 we decided to enter something," said Schillig. The admission price was $1 for artists and $3 for spectators.

A man stood staring hungrily at Vitello Tonnato's (that's Italian for veal with tuna-fish sauce) Grand Prize winning "Nude Descending a Staircase." And she did look delicious - all 10 chopped-liver, parsley-haired pounds of her, reclining on a rutabaga staircase, surrounded by potted palms which were made of sweet-potato pots and serrated-pickle fronds.

Tonnato, also known as Maria Josephy-Schoolman, said she entered the contest "for fun." Where did she get the idea?"I have to admit I stole the idea from a friend who had done this before." For a dinner party.

Josephy-Schoolman, who is a freelance designer and usually works on collages and assemblages, thought the show was "terrific. I think Washington is crying for something like this. The Washington art scene is very staid."

Others felt the same way. Randi Simon, who didn't enter anything, but said she will next year, thought it was "really neat. There should be more of it. It takes the snobbery out of art. You can eat it, you can share it . . ."

Ruth Stenstrom, one of the collective members, who was partially responsible for the idea of the show, said it was held to "try to present art to the masses. Everyone can make food. Except me. I just learned how to make tortillas last night." She pointed to 11 tortillas of various sizes painted in abstract patterns.