Made in Plano: Harry Kalenberg’s POP Art

Harry Kalenberg // photos Kathy Tran

Harry Kalenberg’s story is that of one man’s titanic imagination cast upon the tiniest of canvases: Popcorn.

It all began in 1987 when Harry was watching TV at home with his wife. In that moment our Renoir of Redenbacher was born. Harry looked down at his popcorn and saw it suddenly take on the characteristics of a magnificent primate.

“I told my wife, ‘Look, it’s a gorilla,’” says Harry. “She told me to quit playing with my food.” As so many husbands are wont to do, Harry didn’t listen. Instead he took out a pen and drew a gorilla onto the piece of popcorn.

This was the beginning of a fascinating hobby-turned-artistic endeavor for Harry. Soon he would find himself examining each bowl of popcorn for faces and figures. This could take hours. “Sometimes the images form instantly,” Harry says. “Other times I step away from a piece of popcorn to get a fresh perspective. I’ll go back later and something new will come to mind.”

Harry Kalenberg // photos Kathy Tran
Harry Kalenberg // photos Kathy Tran

Harry’s popcorn pieces are eclectic, experiential and altogether eccentric. His personal collection, which numbers in the hundreds, includes portraits of Elvis, the iconic figure from Munch’s painting “The Scream,” Kermit the Frog, Abraham Lincoln, a patriotic American eagle and Snoopy. What he creates from popcorn is mysterious, exciting, almost like a Rorschach inkblot test solidified in time. It is easy to get addicted to his art while perusing the collection.

Harry’s popcorn art is just one part of his busy daily life. At age 71, when not painting at home in Plano, he’s constantly working on the two businesses he owns. “My advice is that you gotta find a hobby or something to keep your mind busy,” Harry says. “My dad, he died at 90, 10 years ago, and he was still working. Dad used to say that nobody dies of working.”

Over the years, Harry continues to think of new subjects for his favorite canvas. When he’s eating popcorn, he always has a supply of markers on hand. You never know when inspiration will strike. His quest for faces in popcorn sometimes travels with him. “I see faces everywhere,” Harry says. “I see them in the clouds, in wallpaper, in the patterns on the ceiling.” Nothing, however, creates a better canvas for Harry than popcorn.

“No two pieces of popcorn are the same,” Harry says. “You get to work on something that is as unique as a snowflake.” Harry definitely has the experience to make that statement. He’s probably studied more pieces of popcorn than any person in the world.

“Thirty years later, I’m still making popcorn art,” Harry says. His work has been the subject of many articles, broadcasts and interviews.

His global status as a popcorn artist extraordinaire exists, in part, due to his relationship with Ripley’s Believe it or Not attractions. “Ripley’s heard about my popcorn art and reached out to buy 40 pieces,” Harry says. “Now my pieces are on display in galleries across the planet.”

Harry’s story is inspiring because it teaches us that the possibility of creativity and creation exists in the most unexpected of places, especially when the most unexpected of places is one’s own brilliant mind.

Harry Kalenberg's Popcorn Art >
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