“Lowly Bagel Transformed by an Artist,” reads the 1974 New York Times headline. Around these parts, we don’t tend to think of bagels as lowly to begin with—but what a young woman named Judy Blau did to bagels was decidedly elevating.
For a time in the seventies, the Blau family bathtub in Eastchester, New York, was positively filled with bagels that were drying out for the sake of art.
Blau’s grandfather, a Russian-born bagel maker, used to talk to his bagels. He’d draw faces on them and make them speak, like puppets. This gave Blau, who had a fine arts degree, an idea.
After drying them, Blau painted smiley faces on the bagels, and shellacked them. Then she shipped them off to department stores and boutiques, where they sold as necklaces, candleholders, napkin-holders, and Christmas tree ornaments. You could buy one of her “Bagel Berry Wreaths” for twenty bucks.
Bagels, for the Blaus, were a family affair. And Judy’s whole family lent their hands: her two kids, and her husband, who otherwise worked as a nuclear physicist.
Business boomed. Blau later became a successful toy inventor, licensing and marketing toys with Hasbro and Mattel ever since, even branching out beyond the bagel theme. And if that wasn’t enough, Blau has written several children’s books—including the beloved Bagel Baker of Mulliner Lane.