At a Festival grocery store in
downtown Madison, Wisconsin, there’s artwork in the vegetable aisle.
Though it changes daily, it’s always in the same place: between the
parsley and the Swiss chard. Scallions form broad white and green lines,
while rosy radishes add curves of color. Bell peppers may break up the
abstract designs and the inner shading of initials, or flowers may bloom
from between the vegetables. The designs are the work of a produce
stocker who (for privacy reasons) gives his name simply as Brad.
The designs started off as a work
requirement, Brad says. Many Festival grocery stores try to arrange
their produce attractively, and he was asked to do the same with the
scallions and endives in the “wet wall” of vegetables. “This is the one
area where you have the ability to exercise your own creativity,” he
recalls being told. Without any art or design training—other than a past
habit of sketching—he was slightly intimidated. But he came to enjoy
it. “It’s the one good part of my day,” he says.
His designs vary. Some days he makes
abstractions of jagged lines or floating circles. On holidays, he might
make a cabbagey Christmas tree, a “W” for International Women’s Day, or a
Valentine’s Day heart that is split in two by a scallion. Brad
sometimes creates initials to honor musicians he loves, such as “DB” on
the birthday of David Bowie or “DO” on the death of Cranberries singer
Dolores O’Riordan. Brad says that artist Georgia O’Keefe, whose
paintings often had a vegetal quality, is an influence. As a Madison
native, he also points out that O’Keefe was from Wisconsin.
Brad thinks of his creations as an
artistic piece, especially when they are perfectly arranged at the
beginning of the day. After photos of his vegetable designs were sent to
corporate management, he says, some other stores started emulating his
style. When he heard that photos of his work were online, he started
posting his designs on Instagram.
“The best reactions I get are from
customers,” he says. Compared to past jobs, “doing this work was the
first time people would stop, smile, and give me nice comments on the
beauty of my work.” The designs have even inspired him to pursue art
outside of the store, in the form of ink drawings and watercolors.
Though he often has to complete his produce designs quickly, he sketches
some designs far in advance.
“Despite my low wages, it’s nice to make people smile,” Brad adds.