After more than three decades at NASA enhancing employees’ ability to problem solve, communicate and innovate, Karen Long Freidt has retired and is now pursuing a variety of interests — including pie art. Yes, Karen’s pies are without a doubt art. Throughout her life, she has always dabbled in creating, even showing her work in numerous galleries in Virginia and North Carolina. Now, though, art gets her full attention — and it’s getting a lot of other people’s attention as well, including notable fashion designer Anna Sui. From printmaking to improv comedy to her now-recognizable pies, Karen’s artistic journey is still unfolding. We chatted with the pie artist about how the whole pie thing got started, where it’s headed and what she’s learned along the way. HINT: “It is all about being in the moment, being present, spreading a little love and being appreciative of being alive,” she says.
You’ve always been creative and worked in a variety of mediums, but you started baking pies during quarantine to find some comfort. Why pies?
My husband’s birthday was approaching, and his favorite pie is blueberry, which is difficult to find. I thought that I’d practice and make one early. I also just wanted pie for some reason and thought playing with the crust might be fun. The news was on constantly, and I felt a little depressed and scared. I needed something to take my mind to another place. Creating them is very meditative, and it worked. The funny thing is that I accidentally landed on a gold mine of joy when I combined my art with the homemade pies. The pies seem to evoke a sense of comfort that appears to provide some hope and love. It worked for us and it spread quickly. We can all certainly use some. Even the photos and stories have provided support and joy to others. I have been pleasantly surprised with all the positive messages that I continue to receive. We need to share good things with one another.
You began posting pictures of your confectionary creations on social for your friends and online groups to which you belong. And then Anna Sui reached out requesting to use a pie during NYFW. What was that like? How did you react?
When Anna messaged me on Facebook, I wasn’t sure if it was real, a joke, or spam. The first thing that I did was Google her to find out more and I thought, WTH?!!! Is this really happening? Then, I wrote her back and said I’m interested but I need proof that you are really Anna Sui. She friended me on Facebook, and I saw from her select group of friends that it was really her. We jumped on the phone within minutes and talked for a while. It felt like talking to an old friend. We hit it off immediately.
She explained that she had seen my pies within a day of me posting them. They had traveled quickly and been on an Instagram post by Theodora Richards, Keith Richards’ daughter from The Rolling Stones. She told me she’d printed them and had them on her inspiration wall in Manhattan and that she used them to help create her new line of clothing.
It was only a couple of weeks until the show but she thought she’d take a chance at finding me to see if she could get some pies for the video shoot. My images were passed across social media platforms with no name but they found me somehow. When she explained what she wanted and the timeframe, she also asked “do you need time to think about it?” She knew that I’d done nothing like that before and that I had only started making a few pies. I didn’t hesitate! I said, “Yes! I’ll figure it all out.”
Although it can feel somewhat nerve-wracking at times, I truly love a good challenge. I spent time focused on ensuring it would all go forward without a hitch and not too much time thinking about the craziness of the situation but when I did, it certainly felt surreal.
I had prayed for a way to use my art to help others and had a very vivid dream days later in December 2019. In the dream, I was told a date — September 4 — so I wrote it in my cell [phone] calendar. The day I left the house with the pies to be delivered to Anna, a reminder popped up on my phone with the details of the dream. It sent chills down my spine and also made me smile. Way too much aligned to be doing this alone. I then held a fundraiser for our Foodbank and raffled one pie off and earned enough money to provide 20,004 meals for our community. I have never felt more aligned on so many levels in my life. (SB NOTE: At the very beginning of the Anna Sui Spring/Summer Presentation video below, you’ll see Karen’s pie make its virtual fashion show debut.)
How many pies have you made to date?
I hadn’t thought about it until you asked, and I would have guessed 15-20 pies. But I counted on Instagram and it appears that I’ve made 29 9-inch pies, 15 mini pies, and 1 deviled egg mini pie. The deviled egg mini pie was an experiment, a joke really for my dad because he loves my deviled eggs. He ate it, but I didn’t think it was that great. I wouldn’t make it again.
Which has been your favorite?
Usually, my favorite is the next one that I’m about to make. It is exciting to think about a new challenge. If I had to choose one, the pug pie was so different that it does stick out in my mind. The funny thing was that artistically it turned out great but when we went to cut and eat it, we had a good laugh. It was a blueberry pie, so when I cut it, it looked like a murder scene. That said, it tasted really good so we didn’t care. The tomato pie was beautiful too, I thought, due to the various colors from the ingredients that showed through. It’s tough to decide — I love them all for different reasons!
How long does it take to make one of your pies, and how many do you make in a week?
They vary from about 6-9 hours to make. I’ve made no pies for several weeks and then one to three in one week. I’m still creating my artwork, involved with a local comedy club, giving talks, and helping my parents, so a lot of the decision as to when I make them is based on my schedule.
You started with blueberry. Is that the only flavor you make, or do you have other flavors as well?
Yes, blueberry is still my favorite and the fruit is not too difficult to prepare, so most of the pies are blueberry. I want to spend the majority of the time on the crust. I’ve made tomato, strawberry, chocolate, apple, and peach pies also.
Do you eat them all? Do you give them away?
It’s a good thing that I give most of them away or I’d weigh 500 pounds!
You have no plans to sell your pies. Is there a reason for that?
I just retired from working 33 years at NASA, so I make much less money now. I want to be sure that my quality of life stays my first priority. Some might think that would mean more money, but for me it means more freedom to do the things that I want to do. I just wasn’t ready to jump in and start a business full-time.
The other reason is that the pies are so time-intensive that if I were to sell them, they’d have to be very expensive to make any profit. I’ve only sold two pies, and they were to Anna Sui.
You’re working on a book about the pies called Blossom. Is it recipes? A how-to guide? Something more cognitive about creativity?
I’ve photographed all the pies along the way knowing that I want to use them to create the book. I’m finally at a point where I’m ready to start writing and designing the book. I’ve run ideas past a lot of people and they are most interested in both the pie stories behind this past year’s events and the way that I create the crusts. Within the crust instructions, will be some insights as to my thinking when I am creating. I’m thinking that it will be a little of both. How the pie crust is created for each pie and the story behind it.
The stories are about how my pies went viral and all that followed. I’ve been giving most of the pies away to different people or families that were struggling for some reason or to someone that deserved recognition for all that they do for others. The entire experience has been wonderful. I now have a much stronger respect for the power of giving one’s time to others whether that be to talk or make a pie. There’s a great amount of love that can be captured making food that can then be passed on to others. There’s a certain amount of magic in it.
So, yes it will be recipes that will hopefully share how to create beautiful pies, but more importantly how to live a beautiful life serving others.
When is Blossom going to be released, and where can people buy it?
I self-published a creativity coloring book a few years ago and it did very well. However, this time, I’m looking into publishing the book through a print-on-demand service like Amazon or Lulu. The plan is to release it before the end of 2021. Any notifications on its release will be placed on my website and my @kfreidt Instagram account.
You seem to be an artist who is always evolving. Do you have post-pie plans? Or do you think the pies will naturally lead you to your next artistic endeavor?
I’m always experimenting and using various types of media. So although the pies have been highlighted frequently in the news, I’ve been entering art shows and selling my linoleum prints, and making comedy shorts at the same time. I am excited about some ideas that I plan to pursue that involve experimental photography and pies. I have ideas for murals, adult playgrounds, and more. I doubt I will pass away having completed them all, but I’m sure going to try!
Anything else you want to add?
Everything you do has a chain reaction and has more of an impact on others than you may realize. This past year has screamed that fact to me loudly.
All photography provided by Karen Freidt.
Meet more inspiring people, discover new travel destinations, find delicious recipes and more! Subscribe to StyleBlueprint.