Betty Cunningham’s passion is food. By day, she’s a cafeteria worker at Farmington High School. But when the last lunch wave is over, Betty heads home to her studio in the highlands and gets to work creating fantastically intricate miniature delicacies full of personality.
Cunningham makes food-themed jewelry out of polymer clay, mixing colors and sculpting craft store lumps into strips of bacon, tiny hardboiled eggs dotted with pepper, cream-filled pastries with fluted edges topped with berries and anything she can imagine.
She sells her creations under the name Half-Baked Polymer Clay.
“This is my madness. That’s why it’s called Half-Baked,” Cunningham said, laughing.
She crafts tiny slices of spongy pink cake with smooth icing and rainbow nonpareils and lots of doughnuts and cookies to top rings. Bright orange Cheez-It earrings are also popular, Cunningham said, and conversation heart earrings were a hit at Valentine’s Day.
“They’re all handmade,” she said. “I shape every little jelly bean by hand. … The challenge is just to make them realistic.”
To help, Cunningham has an arsenal of odd tools, like sandpaper, a grater, a few things from her husband’s shop and a hair curler, along with traditional clay tools and paintbrushes. The only machines she uses are a pasta machine to create thin, even layers of clay and a toaster oven to bake her creations.
Cunningham’s passion for clay started when her daughter, now a student at Farmington High School, received a clay bead-making kit. Though her daughter wasn’t enthusiastic about the kit, it opened up a new world for Cunningham.
She began making miniature ice cream cones, then started looking around at what other artists were doing and her imagination took off. Finally, a friend suggested Cunningham start selling her creations at shows. She agreed and now does nearly all of her business at shows throughout the region.
“I like to meet people and see their reactions.”
Just one store sells Half-Baked jewelry, Peter Fredericks Salon in Forestville. And anyone who’s interested can peruse her Facebook page and order from there. Cunningham occasionally makes custom designs, like for a recent wedding where the bride requested tiny slices of wedding cake be made for her bridesmaids.
She enjoys the challenge of trying new things and giving color and whimsy to her customers.
“It brings happiness to people who see it,” Cunningham said of her work. “Everybody needs something. Some people meditate. This helps me to relax.”