Issue 62: Hole History

By: Alexis Iammarino

Where there’s a donut, there’s a story. — Author Sally Levitt Steinberg, America’s Donut Princess

INSPIRATION FOR THIS CURATORIAL PROJECT, Hole History: Origins of the American-style Donut, had its start in 2014, while starting to research for a community mural here in Rockland.

I was visiting with a small group at the Rockland Historical Society to hear stories and learn about superlative facts which held meaning for them: notable persons, significant locales of industry, worship, recreation, entertainment, the arts, inventions and culinary pride — the works!

Surrounded by the many books, artifacts, and memorabilia stewarded by them, they began to chime in. One by one, they gushed and expounded. In my element, reveling in their enthusiasm, and faithfully taking notes, one man said “We also invented the doughnut.” That didn’t seem plausible. How about the Chinese cruller, Italian zeppole, or Mexican sopapillas created a millennia ago—or who knows when? Across the table, another man matter-of-factly said, “We didn’t invent the doughnut… we put the hole in it.”

My reaction was simultaneously incredulous and fascinated. Could it be true? I was flabbergasted that such a claim could be singularly attributed to a place or individual. At that moment, I found myself at the heart of the Hole History of America. Things like souvenir T-shirts boasting city incorporation dates or roadside history plaques devoted to nearly unknown actors in national history create mechanisms where people publish their own beginnings-of-time and mute any other possible truths. For me, there’s an inherent multiplicity, humor, and perversion to these stories told to secure bragging rights. And, as an interdisciplinary artist with a community-based practice, I began exploring how the field of public history intersects with community art.

Within the following year, I started laying out plans for an exhibit—and this book—that started with an open call for submissions in all types of visual art; poetry, short essays, and fiction; architecture, sculpture, and models; and presentations, performances, and Powerpoints.

I was committed to position each art work and written submission as a primary source responding to the claim that the hole-in-the-donut was singularly invented by a 19th-century sea captain from Rockport, Maine. I was eager to enliven the discourse on the subject of fact versus mythology, as well as enact my own creative license to borrow idiomatically from other disciplines to create a conceptual terrain where people could create, articulate, and assert their ideas in the media that best suited their way of thinking and expression. I remain curious about the power of aesthetics to intellectualize, editorialize, and inspire resistance to or embrace of any story.

For the past 15 years, I’ve focused my attention on questions of representational authority in art as a way to lead others into analysis of the inherent power structures that interplay between its producers and subjects. As a community artist living in Rockland, Maine, I’m always looking to forge connections among artists, institutions, and the communities here. This project has deepened my collaborative artistic practice in Maine and beyond while staying anchored in my desire to create socially engaged art with others.

Public history describes the many ways that history is put into the world; like public historians, I share a commitment to making art and history relevant, and useful, in the public sphere. May this publication, now available at regional historical societies in Maine, serve as witness to the ongoing conversation about how history is made.

Download Issue 62.


Issue 62, Page 1


Issue 62, Page 2