Joanne Gallaher / May 10, 2018
The image featured on the classic 1988 Artichoke Festival poster is one of photographer Sue Bennett’s most iconic, but for me, it also represents my lifelong love affair with artichokes and the lasting friendships that I’ve cultivated around this amazing thistle.
When I was growing up, artichokes were both rare and exotic in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas. I was introduced to them in high school by my more worldly friend, Karen McIntyre. Soon we turned artichokes into a social activity, steaming them with garlic, placing a “target” paper bag across the room (for leaf disposal), melting the butter for dipping, and ceremoniously eating the chokes leaf by leaf, savoring the heart as the grand finale. My parents just rolled their eyes – but I’m sure they were also entertained that we had discovered this unusual but healthy pastime, especially considering the other temptations available to teenagers in our small town. This ceremonious activity continued into my college years – and the friends who bonded with me over artichokes during that time are still my BFFs. Fortunately, shortly after I met my husband, Bill, he aced the artichoke test – and even more artichoke-loving friends were on the horizon.
In 1977, Bill and I met Sue Bennett after moving to Arizona, and we became fast friends over a dinner (courtesy of Sue) that consisted entirely of artichokes and beer. Nine years later, Sue and I made the first of several pilgrimages to Castroville – the Artichoke Center of the World – to research an article that I was writing on artichokes and to attend the annual Artichoke Festival.
It was during this trip that Sue hatched the idea for the Artichoke Woman© photograph. Her inspiration came from our discovery that Marilyn Monroe, then an unknown starlet, had been crowned California’s first Artichoke Queen in 1948, and years later, she appeared as Playboy’s first “centerfold.” That famous pose later drew comparisons to another renowned photo, Annie Leibovitz’s image of Bette Midler, star of the 1979 movie “The Rose,” in a bed of roses. Sue’s creativity and artistic brilliance led her to a new vision – unbeknownst to me. I’d gone off to stand in line for a hot-air balloon ride at the festival.
That was where Sue found me when she told me of her plan. She said she’d already arranged a location (plus a couple thousand artichokes) to shoot the photo, and she asked me if I would be her model. At that moment, the idea of being enveloped by artichokes seemed a lot more exciting than a balloon ride. I immediately said yes – even though, up until then, I had never particularly enjoyed being photographed. The finished product captures my mood: The expression of pure joy on my face is undeniable.
Thirty years after the unveiling of our poster at the 1988 festival, this year’s festival gives us an opportunity to honor the life of Sue Bennett (who passed away in 2003) while continuing to pay homage to the Hollywood legend who was crowned the first Artichoke Queen 70 years ago. It’s also an opportunity for my high school friend, Karen McIntyre, and me to launch our new online business at www.artichokelover.com. I still haven’t been on a hot-air balloon ride – but this adventure continues to be the ride of my life!
A retrospective of Sue Bennett’s lifework is currently on display at a North Arizona University exhibit in Flagstaff, Arizona. For more information, please visit: