Chandelier project comes together at intersection of art, food and community in University Circle
Story and photography by Michael C. Butz
It’s an idyllic image of Americana: A new family moves into a neighborhood and is greeted by neighbors and soon-to-be friends with warm welcomes or, perhaps, even a tasty treat, like a fresh-baked pie.
Something similar – albeit unique – is happening in University Circle, where a new restaurant, Trentina, has moved into a district renowned for its art and cultural institutions, including The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. In the spirit of the neighborhood’s creative core, art and cuisine have come together in a tangible and participatory way. Rather than being greeted by neighbors with baked goods, Trentina is being welcomed with a community-crafted, MOCA-backed art installation that will serve as a chandelier in the restaurant’s inviting main dining room.
Besides, it’s unlikely many can bake a better pie than the new guy on the block.
Trentina is the latest endeavor of Team Sawyer: James Beard Award-nominated Chef Jonathon Sawyer and his wife, Amelia.
Scheduled to open in early June at 1903 Ford Drive in the historic residence that was once home to Sergio’s, the 35-seat Trentina will feature cuisine and wine from Trentino, a region of northern Italy from which Amelia Sawyer’s family hails.
After exploring the area, Jonathon Sawyer noticed similarities – both in culture and ingredients – between Trentino and the Cuyahoga Valley. Both regions share a similar growing season and many indigenous ingredients such as fresh-water fish, apples and tomatoes, as well as cultural influences from Eastern Europe.
“I don’t know how many Clevelanders have been to Trento (Trentino’s capital city) as a vacation spot, but you’d be very comfortable,” he quips. “There’s crazy commonality. … It’s undeniable.”
Amelia Sawyer has led Trentina’s design, and along the way, was inspired by a family program at MOCA she attended, along with her husband and their children, 8-year-old Catcher and 6-year-old Louisiana.
Led by Nicole Ledinek, MOCA’s curator of education, participants in the program constructed mobiles that were later combined to form a single, larger mobile. The program resonated with the Sawyers.
“As we were designing Trentina, we were Pinteresting different things and different elements of what we wanted the restaurant to look like, and I found this chandelier that looked like it was made out of string, and it was kind of all bunched together at the bottom and it reminded me of the night with the mobiles,” Amelia Sawyer says. “So, I reached out and spoke with Nicole and I said, ‘Hey, is this maybe possible to make?’”
After meeting to lay the groundwork, MOCA and Team Sawyer announced the Community Chandelier Project in February. Throughout the spring, visitors to MOCA were invited to string together iridescent beads to create a chandelier that would hang from the restaurant’s vaulted ceiling. Each participant also was given a metallic gold bead to string.
“The idea of individual colored beads was a way to emphasize and acknowledge the number of community members who participated,” says Ledinek, noting more than 500 people helped create the chandelier. “The role of the gold bead is literally a representation of a community member who took part in constructing the chandelier.”
Since the project was conceived, and due in part to the enthusiastic response it received, it’s evolved from a traditional chandelier to more of an art installation that involves several globe lights to help the 25,000 beads involved sparkle.
The chandelier’s dual role of greeting Trentina guests and welcoming the Sawyers to the neighborhood was very much by design.
“What I loved about (MOCA’s family mobile program) was at these tables were different people from different walks of life that live in different parts of the city all just there to share papier-mâché, pipe cleaners, beads and string. It didn’t matter how old or young you were or how interested in the project you were, everyone was sharing,” Jonathon Sawyer says. “That was, for me, the a-ha moment. We needed to have some sort of community outreach.”
Amelia Sawyer feels Trentina’s beginning mirrors that of Uptown’s and University Circle’s as a true neighborhood, not just a destination district.
“I think restaurants are really great places for the community to meet – they always have been, and I think this is the beginning of a neighborhood,” says Amelia Sawyer, noting the established popularity of Ohio City and Tremont. “They already have great restaurants and they have great things. Here, it’s kind of all starting. We’re at the cusp. MOCA is here, as are all the cultural institutions, but there isn’t that neighborhood feeling yet, you know, with everybody – not just the college, not just the hospitals.
“We want to know people, we want to be friends with MOCA, the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and we want them to feel like they can come over and hang out with us,” she adds.
Jonathon Sawyer also feels a new momentum building around University Circle.
“It’s super exciting to see Uptown Cleveland really becoming the cultural anchor of entire Northern Ohio,” he says. “When you put what MOCA did two years ago when it opened in this stunning new space, and you put new tenants like us, Zack (Bruell, of L’Albatros Brasserie + Bar) and Britt-Marie Culey (of Coquette Patisserie) next to it, it’s really exciting to see the synergy.”
The food in this equation isn’t to be overlooked. Though Trentino is in Italy, Jonathon Sawyer says its history is peppered with flavors from Habsburg, German, Hungarian, Austrian, Italian and Ottoman rule, and as a result, the region’s food is representative of those influences.
“Even though people hear ‘Italian’ and they want to see red sauce and cavatelli, you’re going to see more faro, buckwheat, venison and sauerkraut than you are those things, which I think is going to be enlightening – and very comfortable,” the chef says of Trentina’s menu. “It has the Italian sensibilities of light, refreshing, properly sourced fare, but with the spices of seasonings of Germanic food.
“I think that’s going to be a really interesting thing for us to express here in Cleveland, but also, it hasn’t really happened in America,” he adds.
Jonathon Sawyer says few things are more gratifying to him and his family than being accepted by the community, as Team Sawyer has been through the chandelier project. Amelia Sawyer says the MOCA collaboration has led them to feel at home in University Circle.
“We live right up the hill (in Cleveland Heights), so that’s part of it. We love this neighborhood, we already feel a connection, we love Cleveland Heights,” she says. “We wanted it to feel like home, and involving people around us and getting to know everybody is how you make a home.” CV