From Wounded Knee to the planning board, Morristown’s Artist Baker offers food for thought

Andrea Lekberg buries her Takuwe quilt near Wounded Knee massacre site in South Dakota, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andrea Lekberg.
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By Marion Filler

Most people in Morristown would describe Andrea Lekberg, (a.k.a. The Artist Baker) as the soft-spoken master of exquisite pastries made in her quaint shop on Cattano Avenue.

Perhaps less well known, is that in addition to her culinary skill, Lekberg is also a fine artist trained at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she grew up.

Andrea Lekberg of The Artist Baker with decorations for the 2023 Dia de Los Muertos event. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

And fewer still might have a clue about her Lakota heritage, traceable through her maternal line that leads to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

It’s just 15 minutes from the site of the Massacre at Wounded Knee, where in 1890, the U.S. Army infamously slaughtered 300 or more Lakota men, women and children.

Aside from spending summers with her Grandma Hoblit on the reservation, Lekberg’s ancestry did not play a significant role in her early life.

That all changed when, as an adult with her own studio, she was contacted by Craig Howe, founder and director of Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies who develops museum exhibitions and lectures across the country to raise cultural awareness.

Because she is a citizen of the Lakota nation, Lekberg was invited to participate in an exhibit.

“The shows are once a year, so I could do one or two pieces and I had a whole year to work on it. A big part of it is helping everybody understand their heritage, people on the outside and people on the inside.”

Andrea Lekberg’s Takuwe quilt, which she buried near the Wounded Knee massacre site in South Dakota, 2018. Photo courtesy of Andrea Lekberg.

Her first piece, dark in color and meaning, was called Takuwe. It was part of an exhibition of the same name that opened in November 2018 at the South Dakota Art Museum. Takuwe means “Why” in Lakota and commemorates the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

Lekberg made a quilt, a somber combination of black and grey with touches of muddy red and white. It was buried on the anniversary of the massacre, close to the actual site of a mass grave for the victims.

No one from her immediate family was killed at Wounded Knee, but stories came down to Grandma Hoblit, who described the crying that ensued when families went to the field to find their missing loved ones.

“They don’t know who fired the first shot, but whoever did it, that was it. They just killed everybody” says Lekberg, 58.

A link to the show shines a very bright light on what happened and why, by way of commentary from observers on both sides. It’s well worth a look.

‘Transformation,’ an acrylic artwork by Andrea Lekberg. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Transformation, a large acrylic on canvas, is a Lekberg contribution to a later exhibit. It’s a happier work and has been touring since 2020.

When it returns, and if she chooses to display it in the bakery, the painting will be a consummate treat. Its symbolism is traditional, “but I wanted to keep the palette current,” says Lekberg, referring to pastel colors not usually associated with Native American art.

The piece is visually striking, in large measure by her use of real buffalo hide as the contrasting focal point of the composition.

In May, Lekberg returned the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin for her second project there since 2001, when she made a bronze casting of her grandmother’s china collection. This time, she aimed to celebrate work, and the workers at the Kohler factory and at her shop.

With her brother’s help, Lekberg designed a mock pastry kitchen. The shelves and counters were stocked with “food” made from donated materials. Cardboard and tile were re-imagined as layer cake, foam became bread, white socks were transformed into glazed doughnuts. Visitors were put to work making the pastries  —  essentially making art.

“I felt good about it,” Lekberg said.

THE COYOTE CAFE

So how did Lekberg make the transition from artist to baker?

“I never did,” she says, acknowledging an interplay that extends beyond the kitchen.

After college, she attended the Cooking Hospitality Institute. “I stayed in Chicago for another year then left for Santa Fe,” Lekberg recalled

“It’s a totally creative spot, and I lucked out in a great restaurant called the Coyote Cafe. It was about food and art. The chef and owner at the time was Mark Miller and I remember that he had an artist come and decorate his restaurant at Christmas. He was incredibly inspiring.”

Lekberg’s bakery, situated in one of the few old commercial buildings still standing in Morristown, reflects Miller’s influence.

TEA FOR TWO? Andrea Lekberg of The Artist Baker with decorations for the 2023 Dia de Los Muertos event. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Both establishments are authentic of place, and both renowned for their specialties. After 30 years in business, Coyote’s Margaritas are still legendary. Lekberg’s baked goods, available Morristown since 2009, can only be described as crazy good, with devoted customers willing to wait on line in inclement weather for her delicious confections.

Space is very tight in her shop, augmented by a small brick patio in back, but it hasn’t stopped Lekberg from hosting art exhibits, talks by authors, and fundraisers for community organizations.

Trained as a chef, Lekberg has donated catered events and tastings at The Seeing Eye Inc. and Art in the Atrium Inc., and done projects at the Market Street Mission.

She also has organized celebrations of Dia de los Muertos in churches and businesses throughout Morristown. Inspired by Mexican sisters who formerly worked for her, the initial event in 2022 created a popup shrine to victims of the Uvalde and Buffalo mass shootings.

That same year, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) launched the Heroes program to recognize area individuals who made a difference during Covid. Lekberg was among them, nominated by customer Ken Bariahtaris.

“No one that I know of did more for her employees/customers/community than Andrea Lekberg over the past nearly three years,” wrote Bariahtaris.

“Andrea uniquely realized that The Artist Baker was central to Morristown and that her operational model had to change in the pandemic. She made service changes to keep going, keep producing beautiful baking, keep her staff safe, implement a touchless delivery window at her storefront, and stay optimistic — and help her customers.”

Also in 2022, Mayor Tim Dougherty appointed Lekberg to the Morristown planning board, where she gets a front-row seat–and a vote–on local development projects.

“It has taken me a while to figure out my voice at the planning board,” says Lekberg, who rarely comments at meetings.

“To me it’s more than the color of bricks. I’ve learned the best for me is when citizens come out and talk about their issues with a project. I learn a lot from those comments and they help me to understand the demographics of Morristown.”

EARLY RISER

As businesswoman and baker, Lekberg starts her day between 4 am and 5 am, directing her staff of eight assistants ahead of the morning rush, when doors open at 8 am. After 16 years, she still rolls up her sleeves, though many functions have been delegated to staffers.

She describes Eusabia, who runs the kitchen, and Adriana at the front desk as indispensable members of her team.

Andrea Lekberg, right, with her mom, Fran Davidson, July 2024. Photo by Marion Filler.

Her mother, Fran Davidson, trim and vivacious at 84, visits from Chicago every summer and pitches in with bookkeeping as well as making chicken salad in the kitchen.

“I like what we do here,” Davidson admits, but quickly adds she has no thought of relocating at present.

Lekberg’s earliest culinary experience came from two grandmothers, one a Lakota from South Dakota and the other of German/Swedish descent in Chicago.

“But they couldn’t have been more different,” she remembers. “Grandma Hoblit lived at the Pine Ridge Reservation and had a totally free style. She would go to the store and buy full sized candy bars for all the kids.” Treats were not a guilty indulgence for her.

“No way with the Chicago grandma. She enforced rules and regulations and followed recipes.”

Lekberg was drawn to pastry making–which wasn’t always a sweet mix with the male-dominated restaurant world.

“You wanted more than anything to have the desserts flow with the rest of the meal,” she recounts. Many chefs had different priorities. “The hardest part of it was that that they wouldn’t collaborate with you. They didn’t value desserts.”

Andrea Lekberg and Adriana at The Artist Baker, July 2024. Photo by Marion Filler.

The Artist Baker’s exquisite array of cakes, tarts, cookies and scones are as beautiful to behold as they are to eat. Lekberg attributes this to her art background.

What is next for Andrea Lekberg? Surprisingly, fine art is not necessarily in the picture.

“If I never did another painting, I would be satisfied with what I have done so far,” she claims.

Has the bakery also run its course? With a dependable, well trained staff and accommodating landlord, she confirms it’s not going anywhere.

But even before her appointment to the town planning board, Lekberg has made a point to reach out to every segment of the community regarding the quality of life in town.

“Just say I’m working towards a run for public office,” is all she will say about her political aspirations.

Have a scone, and stay tuned.

This story was updated with details about the artist’s project at the Kohler Art Center.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Andrea is without a doubt one of Morristown’s finest treasures. She cares deeply about Morristown’s future and gives of her time and talent to many local causes. Her work ethic is admirable and she brings her authentic personality and spirit to all that she does. Walking into the Artist baker feels like coming home. She and Fran are the ” real deal” and we are so fortunate to have them here as part of our community. Andrea makes Morristown a better, more interesting, more authentic, more artful place to live and work.

  2. The MMT Library was honored to recently present a fascinating talk by the nationally known Andrea Lekberg in which she spoke about her art, including her recent partnership with the prestigious John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. The MMT Library has also benefited from The Artist Baker donating baked goods to Library programs. We are lucky to have such a caring and civic-minded business owner in our community! For those interested in viewing Ms. Kekberg’s talk, visit the Morristown & Morris Township Library’s YouTube channel at:
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=morristown+and+morris+township+library

  3. Morristown is home to so many unique, delightful and caring-about-the town and its future individuals but Andrea Lekberg must surely be at the top of that list. Thanks, Marion Filler, for this full and compelling insight into our own Artist Baker. She enriches the community and we need to see more of her and hear more from her. It looks like she may well be thinking about it.

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