Ann Fritz peers carefully at the palm-size piece of soap she cradles gently, making careful, precise cuts until a delicate flower emerges out of the once smooth form.
Fritz, who lives in Lexington, has transferred skills used in the ancient Thai art of carving fruits and vegetables into the creation of exquisite one-of-a-kind decorative soaps.
That, she said, took a lot of trial and error.
She has a closet full of store-bought soaps to prove it. None had the right consistency, so she finally started making her own. (Dove, she said, is the best among commercial soaps for carving because it is the softest.)
So how did this exotic art come to the Bluegrass?
First, a short history lesson. Fritz is trained in fruit and vegetable carving. A popular theory is that fruit and vegetable carving originated in Thailand in the 1300s. Fritz said she was taught that members of the royal family were required to have their food cut into bite-size pieces, and the carving grew out of an effort to make each bite beautiful.
The art form was taught widely throughout Thailand, although it fell out of favor after the 1932 revolution in that country, according to fruitcarvingcentre.com. But decades later, it began to be taught again and is required as part of school curriculum.
Fritz, who is from Thailand, did not learn carving as a child; she began while taking a class at the Thai embassy while living in Singapore. She said the teacher praised her work almost immediately, and she was soon creating elaborate carved fruit.
When she came to the United States with her husband, Drew Fritz, she brought her art with her. For years her refrigerator was filled with carved fruit she produced as a hobby and sometimes sold for special occasions
She started to carve soap a few years ago to create something that would have a longer shelf life than fruit. She adds scents like jasmine to her handmade soaps, and they will maintain their shape and fragrance for about two years. Each soap takes about 45 minutes to carve, work she often does while listening to Thai movies on television. Most soaps cost $8 each.
Maintaining the ancient art has its challenges. In addition to finding soap in the right consistency she has had difficulty finding tools created in the United States that are sharp enough to do the work well. (She uses a set of knives she purchased in Thailand.)
Fritz said she enjoys doing demonstrations and would like to teach classes but said someone needs to have fairly advanced knife skills before attempting to carve soap as she does.