Harry Kalenberg has a unique hobby – he turns pieces of popcorn into tiny works of art using only colored felt markers and pens. From miniature models of celebrities like Elvis or Donald Trump, to popular cartoon characters and animals, Harry has a gift for spotting the craziest things in a bowl of popcorn.
It all started 28 years ago, when Harry Kalenberg and his wife Esther were sitting on the couch one evening, eating popcorn. At one point, the artist spotted a strange-looking piece of popcorn that resembled a gorilla. His wife wasn’t interested in the discovery, but he wouldn’t let her lack of enthusiasm curb his. He took out a ballpoint pen and started painting the details he saw with his mind’s eye, eventually bringing the popcorn gorilla to life. And that’s how his career as a popcorn artist started.
“I was sitting one night eating popcorn with my wife, and I picked up a piece and said ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a gorilla right there,'” Kalenberg told the Plano Star Courier. “My wife told me to leave her alone and stop playing with my food. I took out my ballpoint pen and started painting what I saw. The gorilla was sitting there with his hands behind his back – all it needed was for me to bring it to life.”
The Plano-based artist always keeps dozens of colored markers and hands on hand when eating popcorn, just in case he spots his next artwork. His collection already numbers hundreds of tiny pop art items, some of which are displayed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museums all over the world, or in private collections. Some of his works have sold for as much as $300.
What really attracted Harry Kalenberg to popcorn as an art medium was the uniqueness of each kernel. Just like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike, and being able to spot a familiar shape in the next one he was about to pop into his mouth has always been exciting. He claims that the average bowl of popcorn can produce around 10 works of art, but he never actually goes looking for them.
“I don’t look for it, it’s just there, I just pick up a kernel and know what’s going to be on there,” he says. “Many times I see something and think maybe there’s something else there, and come back to it. As soon as I pick it up, I know exactly what it is. It would take me about six hours to eat a bowl of popcorn with my wife and son. Sometimes I think I’m eating my profit.”
Kalenberg says he has experimented with various snacks in the last 27 years, but none have proven to be as satisfying as popcorn. Chips didn’t work as well as he’d hoped, and peanut shells were all too uniform. Microwave popcorn aren’t well suited for pop art either, as Harry says they are all hopelessly slimy, which is why he always pops his own from his favorite brands of corn kernels – Orville Redenbacher and Newman’s – which he says have the most explosive personalities.
Once he’s done drawing the features of whatever he spots popcorn, Harry preserves them with three layers of polyurethane and adds them to his collection.
“It’s relaxation for me,” Kalenberg says about his unique hobby. “Sometimes I go to the movies, and as a joke, I take a pen light out of my pocket and look at [the popcorn] while I’m eating it.”