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Top Chef Carla Hall: A Paper-Doll Portrait by Danni Dawson

Carla Hall by Danni Dawson
by Danni Dawson
Carla Hall Paper Doll, oil on canvas and mylar, by Danni Dawson.

Long ago, Carla Hall — chef, Top Chef finalist and co-host of The Chew — was an Art League model. The teacher in those classes, Danni Dawson, recently got a chance to paint Hall one more time, and took the opportunity to create a different kind of portrait.

It was for an exhibit titled “Women Chefs: Artists in the Kitchen,” which you can read about in the Washington Post. Chefs and artists were paired up for portraits. Dawson’s “paper doll” portrait of Hall, now part of the Student/Faculty Show through February 28, combines different looks by using detachable, magnetic mylar sheets. Visitors can attach different fragments of the painting to see Hall in different outfits, put her hair up or down — or change a chicken from mid-strut to freshly roasted.

Here’s what artist Danni Dawson had to say about this portrait:

“I have painted a lot of portraits through the years with some very special clients: Sandra Day O’Connor, Frank Saul, and Nigel Morris, to name a few. Carla and I have known each other for years; she posed for my classes at The Art League School in Alexandria years ago. We decided to do a paper doll after Carla had seen one I did of my neighbor.

Carla came and posed for pictures that I took with me to Italy, and I painted most of the painting at my studio there. This portrait has been a lot of fun. It is great to be able to let go and think of different things like a change of clothes, a mobile still-life. Changing the painting each day. This is the first time I have felt as free as when I am sculpting.

Carla and I lost contact for a few years. I was watching her on TV and I didn’t want to bother her. Then I called her and we started a new project. This has been special for both of us, as Carla renews her roots in the art world and I renew mine in cooking. I make my own pasta from nettles, tomatoes, mint, etc. I pick up sauces from friends in Italy and here.

Painting portraits is special because one meets so many people from different walks of life, and then you have to try to find them in a painting or sculpture, so that the painting doesn’t just look like them but has the feeling of them.”

Carla Hall Paper Doll by Danni Dawson
Carla Hall Paper Doll by Danni Dawson in two different configurations.

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