Nassau Hall, rendered in an Oreo
Photo and art by Anita Pan *20
Pan has sculpted and published about 50 creations in her chosen medium

One day in March, Anita Pan *20 etched a little Degas ballet dancer in the creme filling of an Oreo cookie.

Why? She was stuck in a 14-day quarantine, having come home from a foreign country — the U.S., where she was at Princeton — to Vancouver. She’s always liked Degas. And her cohort in the master’s of public policy program at the Woodrow Wilson School gave her a nudge. 

“I took them up on this challenge,” Pan said.

But she didn’t really like how it turned out. “And because I didn’t like it, I had to continue,” she said. “So it just evolved.”

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, sculpted in an Oreo.
Art and photo by Anita Pan *20

To date, Pan has sculpted and published about 50 creations in her chosen medium, mostly great works of art like Adam reaching for God’s hand on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the banana taped to a wall. She’s also sculpted several Princeton icons including Robertson and Nassau halls. And, as a surprise for her virtual graduation, she made portraits of all the graduates in her cohort. The more complex reliefs take about 40 minutes.

With unused halves of the Oreo cookies, she’s been making crusts for cheesecake.

Pan, who received her undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia, said she’s had no art schooling, but has always liked galleries and museums. She uses a toothpick to sculpt, and has discovered that cleanly opening an Oreo so the icing stays all on one side requires a warm room temperature. Sometimes she’ll leave the cookie in the sun for a bit. She uses regular Oreos — Double Stuf would be too thick.

“Starry Night” sculpted in an Oreo cookie
Art and photo by Anita Pan *20

She’s been posting photos on Instagram, and was delighted when New York's Museum of Modern Art shared her Starry Night on social media. She sent some photos to the website Bored Panda, which interested international media from Portugal, Switzerland, and Taiwan, to name a few.

She doesn’t eat her art. “I ate the first one and told my cohort, and there was a lot of protesting,” she said. Since then she’s kept the completed cookies unrefrigerated in thin, airtight boxes where they’re holding up surprisingly well.

In July Pan will go back to work. The one-year master’s program is meant for mid-career professionals, and Pan had taken leave from her job in international trade for the Canadian Foreign Service. She may slow down on the cookies, and perhaps switch to a different subject than great works of art.

“It was just a fun little project,” Pan said. She’s received messages on Instagram from people enjoying her works, and said she’s glad to provide a diversion. And she’s grateful to her cohort for encouraging her cookie art, as well as for a wonderful year.

“It really is a new family,” she said. “I couldn’t have expected more of my Princeton experience.”

The 2020 master's in public policy cohort at the Woodrow Wilson School, sculpted in Oreos.
Art and photo by Anita Pan *20

Read what mechanical and aerospace engineering grad students learned about Oreo physics in PAW’s Feb. 8, 2017, issue.