Marie Roberts, an art professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus, had the unique opportunity to have some of her artwork featured in a recent episode of TLC’s hit show, “Cake Boss.”
“Cake Boss” centers around Buddy Valastro’s bakery, Carlo’s City Hall Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J. In the episode “Freaks, Fast Food & Frightened Frankie,” which originally aired on Nov. 30, 2009, Valastro and his crew designed a cake for the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, using Roberts’ paintings as part of the design.
When Roberts received a call asking permission for her pictures to be used on the show, she allowed it even though she had never heard of the show.
“I don’t have cable; I didn’t know what ‘Cake Boss’ was,” said Roberts. “Only after the episode aired, and Amusing the Zillion (a former carnival performer) did a blog on me, did I get an inkling of just how popular the show is.”
The works that appeared on the “Cake Boss” episode were edible reproductions of cast portraits. This cast included performers Scott Baker, Donny Vomit, Serpentina, Heather Holliday, Black Scorpion and Kryssy Kocktail.
Since 1997, Roberts has been painting banners for the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. The images, called the bannerline, hang over the entrance to the sideshow theater.
“I generally try to make a new bannerline each sideshow season. That is about nine new six-by-five foot paintings,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ uncle was a talker with the Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island during the 1920’s, and her father also worked with the Dreamland show.
“I grew up with all this sideshow culture,” she said. “I ran away from sideshow culture to become an artist.”
In the early 1990s, Roberts said she saw a New York Times article about a contemporary sideshow in Coney Island. “It was started by Dick Zigun, who had an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in playwriting from Yale School of Drama. He understood both sides of my background, the sideshow and the professional artist.”
It was in 1997 that this contemporary circus sideshow moved to its present location, and banners were needed.
Roberts and her students painted 25 full-size banners for the 1997 sideshow season.
“I fell in love with the genre and continued to paint for the sideshow. I am an artist in residence there,” she said.
“I paint anything that needs to be painted, the banners outside and inside the sideshow theater, some installation work for programs like Creepshow at Halloween, and anything needed for the annual Mermaid Parade.”
After the “Cake Boss” episode aired, Roberts had the opportunity to meet Valastro.
Valastro allowed Roberts to tour the inside of his cake mobile, a white air-conditioned SUV.
Roberts learned that before Valastro designs a cake, he draws out his designs beforehand.
Roberts said, “I was really pleased with his work. I firmly believe in drawing as the basis of all design.”
As for the cake, “I told Buddy that he did an incredible job,” Roberts said.
“It was really beautiful; it had the feeling of the show and my paintings. The colors were keyed to my paintings.”