The “Spirit of ’76” is undoubtedly one of the most iconic images in Marblehead, a town full of historic iconography.
The painting looms large in Abbot Hall and the Selectmen’s meeting room and is a draw for tourists coming to town. It’s a lasting symbol of the American Revolution, and wound up in Marblehead in the 19th century, where it has sat ever since.
In 1993 — 30 years ago this week — a new “Spirit of ’76” was born, though not how you might expect. San Francisco artist Peter Rocha assembled a smaller version of the painting, composed entirely of Jelly Belly jelly beans. In 1993, the beans were less than two decades old, and owed their popularity in part to President Ronald Reagan’s proclaimed fondness for the sweet treats.
Rocha, the self-proclaimed “king of jelly bean art,” had never sampled the candy until Reagan’s love for it was revealed. Impressed by the variety of colors, he set out to craft a portrait of Reagan from the beans, an effort that took him six months to complete. Since then, Rocha sped up his process, which began with a rough pencil drawing of his subject based on a photograph. From there, he painted a tight color composition, which was covered in jelly beans.
In order to make the candy stick, Rocha soaked the beans in a clear glue. He then applied them by wetting the painting with more glue and sliding each bean into place.
Rocha’s portrait specifically focused on the fife player in the “Spirit of ’76,” and was transported to New England for a limited time. The jellied version of the iconic image was available to be viewed at Chocolate by Design on Atlantic Avenue until Nov. 30. It was then set to be showcased at stores in Boston and Andover until Dec. 15, when it was taken back to Jelly Belly HQ in Fairfield, Calif. (where manufacturer Herman Goelitz Candy Co. is based).
The fife player is one of several portraits in the company’s private collection, which also included Elvis Presley, Burt Reynolds, Abraham Lincoln, Pope John Paull II, the Statue of Liberty, and Spiderman.