Young and Hungry

Chicken Doodle

Whole Foods might have a reputation as the grocer to the bourgeoisie, but it has one claim to the bohemian: Each market employs at least one in-store artist, a full-time employee whose job extends beyond doodling on chalkboards. Throughout the region, trained artists draw, paint, decoupage, and paper mâché their grocery stores into a viewing experience for shoppers. Organic popcorn, aisle three.

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Harper Horan, Tenleytown Whole Foods 

Horan started working as a Whole Foods cashier for extra income while she freelanced as a graphic designer. She’s worked as an artist at different Whole Foods stores for three and a half years. “I do just about everything,” Horan says. “We do graphic design, we design flyers for the store, we design signs, we build things. Some of our stuff is three-dimensional. It has to hang from the ceiling. So we have to MacGyver the situation.”

Horan recycles a lot of materials from the store into her work: marketing flyers, wooden pallets that arrive with food shipments, even cheese containers. “They’re like giant hat boxes,” she says. “I could totally make a cheeseburger out of one. If we had grassfed ground beef on sale.”

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 James McLean, Rockville Whole Foods

McLean had never heard of Whole Foods when he applied for his job as in-store artist at the Rockville outpost in 2008. (“I wasn’t a big shopper.”) At any given time the store will have 100 pieces of his work on display, from small handwritten signs to large, elaborate displays, often made out of foamcore.

One drawback of working in a grocery store: You get really hungry. “We have a small work space that’s behind the prepared foods section,” McLean says, “and sometimes the ventilation system brings in the smells of what they’re cooking.”

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 Casey Berry, Friendship Heights Whole Foods

A graphic design graduate with an interest in sculpture, Berry got her first in-store artist job in California after trying to apply to be a cashier. “My friends think I’m drawing chalkboards all day,” she says, but Berry does a lot of sculptural work and paints portraits of her colleagues.

She occasionally draws inspiration from the store’s products. “Some of the graphic designs on the products are fun to work with,” Berry says. “Like cereal with a panda bear on it.” She’s also made giant surfboards out of foam (which won her a $500 gift card in a contest among in-store artists) for a lemonade promotion.

“I love how I feel appreciated every day by team members looking at my art,” Berry says. “And some customers have commented. I left for a few months, and a customer said, ‘Oh, where did that girl with the good handwriting go?’”

Photos courtesy Whole Foods artists

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