Astoria Characters: The Master of the Art of Domesticity

“Do you know the story of the Bundt pan?”

Emily Bicht is sitting on her back balcony, her cascading Boticelli Venus red ringlets flowing in the breeze like waves frolicking on the beach.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily Bicht is an artist.

She’s talking about the inspiration for her “Bundt Life,” an art installation that features a 2.5-foot-high sculpture of a Bundt cake, painted sports-car-shiny hot pink and sprinkled with glitter.

“Hot pink,” she says as she points to a photo of the work on her website, “was the only option.”

The cake’s set atop a homemade table, painted a frothy sea-foam green, in a room covered with Emily’s flocked wallpaper punctuated, with her paintings of her and her partner, in costume, in wrestling poses.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily was born in England.

See Emily. She’s lounging in one of the ice-cream-parlor chairs, clad in a long, puritanical frock of her own fabric and design.

It is a scene of sensual domesticity: Emily, eyes closed in ecstasy, is caressing the cake.

The whole thing looks like something Judy Chicago would have served up at her famous feminist “Dinner Party.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily’s vase will be part of an upcoming LIC installation.

“Why a Bundt cake?” Emily asks. “I like the sexual shape.”

The story of the Bundt pan – Emily apologizes, because she may not be remembering every single one of these details correctly, but that’s OK because this isn’t so much about dates and data as it is about her artistic impressions – goes something like this.

Some 70 years ago, a group of Jewish women in Minnesota wanted to make traditional kugelhopf cakes, but they didn’t have any ring-shaped pans to bake them in.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily recently left the corporate world.

They persuaded the owner of the kitchenware company Nordic Ware to create an aluminum pan for their purpose.

It was christened Bund, which is German for “bond” or “alliance.” The final t was added to the name later, but no one really knows exactly why.

Anyway, the pan wasn’t a big seller until 1966 when the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, baked in a Bundt, placed second in the 17th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off, and every woman in America started baking it.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Domesticity is a theme of Emily’s work.

“I like the story,” Emily says, “because it starts out with Nordic Ware just wanting to help somebody.”

Emily, a wife and a mother of two young boys who knows how to bake and build things, has long used her family life as the starting point for her sculptures, drawings, paintings and ceramics.

Her “Dream Homes” series, whose mixed-media images are taken from Sears kit homes and advertising catalogs, is, she says, about “housing insecurity, inflated real estate and the inability to achieve the American dream and my own personal desire for a home.”

The more than 50 watercolor drawings in Emily’s series “Mother’s Encyclopedia,” which come from a 1961 book of that name, started as a warm-up exercise in the studio.

Her latest series, of ornate wedding-white ceramic cakes and cake stands that will be on exhibit at LIC’s Local Project in December, is, she says, “about inaccessibility and expectations.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily has two young sons.

Her ceramics, which include coffee cups and dishes with pecking barnyard chickens, are invitations for everyone to sit down together for breakfast.

“If there’s a theme to my work, especially the ceramic pieces that are made to be used, it’s about finding meaning in everyday life,” Emily says. “Yes, my work is about domesticity, but there’s also a subversive theme. I use the domestic space to stage a question and subvert sociopolitical issues.”

One of her early series of paintings, completed around the time she got married, explored the role of the housewife.

“I was curious about it,” she says, “because I was never a housewife; I always worked. None of the women in my family have had the luxury of being a housewife.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily’s ceramics are made for everyday use.

Her work, she says, reflects her point of view that “everybody, however they identify, should be able to do whatever they want, take on whatever they want and feel empowered doing it.”

Born in Hemel Hempstead, England to American parents and raised in Baltimore and Bel Air, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Emily always knew that art would be the driving force in her life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily started her career in Philadelphia.

“I did my first self-portrait when I was 6,” she says and smiles.

After graduating from Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, Emily stayed in the city and took on a series of jobs in the nonprofit sector. She continued producing art in her living room.

After a couple of years, she came to New York City, which she had visited numerous times.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily sells her work on Etsy.

“Philly was starting to feel too small,” she says.

Besides which, she was dating the New Yorker who would ultimately become her husband.

Time went by quickly: Emily got married, got a master’s degree in art from Brooklyn College and got pregnant with her first son then her second.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily has an MFA from Brooklyn College.

But she never stopped working a full-time job or creating art.

“You have to holler for a dollar,” she says, adding that she’s done everything from cleaning houses to painting them to earn a living.

Last year, she left her longtime job as director of operations of a small software company so she could pursue art full time.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Emily’s ceramics include planters.

OK, that’s that quite accurate: She still does freelance work like accounting and bookkeeping when it comes up.

Recently, Emily’s 10-year-old son asked her what she had wanted to be when she was a child.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Art will always be a part of Emily’s life.

An artist, she told him.

“You’re really lucky, Mom,” he said. “Not everybody gets to do what they want to do.”

Emily couldn’t agree more.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling