By STEVE SALDIVAR

As Scott Weaver, a Santa Rose artist, held his wife’s hand and they left the church as a newly wedded couple in 1989, his friends threw toothpicks in lieu of rice. Weaver collected those toothpicks and, along with 100,000 others, built a replica of San Francisco. The art project made of only toothpicks took 34 years to complete and it debuted Saturday night at Root Division’s Taste 2009 Preview, the nonprofit’s annual event exploring food.

Of the 16 artists featured, Weaver attracted the most visitors. Once the doors opened at 7 p.m., the artist lunged to the floor, a few inches away from his exhibit. He threw on his black-rimmed glasses, and while on his stomach, reached underneath the project and dug out a single, broken toothpick and stuck it in his pocket. Artists never stop.

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Is this on YouTube?” a guest shouted. Weaver assured him that he has uploaded footage of “Rolling Through the Bay,” the name of his project, and let the guest drop a ping-pong ball through the toothpicks. And so the night went on.

Root Division, an organization combining arts and education in the Mission District since 2002, hosts and provides affordable art space for Bay Area artists in exchange for artists giving classes to adults and elementary students. Taste, Root Division’s artistic look at food, eating habits and issues related to consumption, is one of the more popular events on its calendar.

“Artists have a way of synthesizing information,” said Michelle Mansour, executive director of Root Division. “They act as a conduit. They’re interpreters.

“This is really a celebration of food,” the two-year director continued. “It is about celebrating that relationship with nature that can sometimes be obscured.”

In Weaver’s case, that celebration comes in the form of combining the personal and the social histories of a city.

Not only does the “Rolling Through the Bay” sculpture feature San Francisco landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, it also encompasses some of the Lucky’s produce manager’s personal history. “I dedicate this turn to the 10 years of sobriety,” Weaver told the crowd gathered around him. He mentioned the toothpicks from his wedding day, citing Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Weaver takes viewers into the different parts of San Francisco.

Weaver takes viewers into the different parts of San Francisco.

Pamela Rhodes, an artist and financial planner in San Francisco, found much of the exhibits, though far from traditional, necessary.

“I do very traditional, realistic watercolor works. But Weaver’s piece—it is so open. You don’t have to do art in a traditional way. You can go to your basement and put toothpicks together.”

Later in the evening, Root Division stayed true to its educational roots by offering a mini class on how to make biodiesel fuel.

Jennifer Radtke, an Oakland resident and advocate of biofuel, put on protective glasses and blue latex gloves.

Radtke placed vegetable oil, methanol and lye on a magician’s table. Biodiesel, Radtke contends, is no trick.

“Anyone can do this,” she said.

“Art is the perfect medium,” said Justine Choy, who works at a health foundation in Santa Clara County.

“In a time when people are looking inwards with their personal health and wellness, people are getting back to basics. We are now looking at the process all around it. This is a great medium to reflect [on] our habits and maybe make the changes we all know we should make but it’s hard to motivate us to do.”

Jennifer Radtke teaches how to make Bio Diesel fuel.

Jennifer Radtke teaches how to make biodiesel fuel.

Taste, since 2006, has been a financial success for the organization. Last year Taste ’08 made $18,000, according to the executive director. They’re expecting the same this year.

Although Taste 2009 Preview is always exploring different elements of food, the event this year surprised Sarah Klein, artist and curator of the show.

Last year’s show was “sexy, glamorous and abundant,” according to Klein. Tonight, many of the exhibits were more reflective, she said.

“I want people to think about how food physically gets into our mouths. Artists are often ahead of things. They often turn things on their head a bit, giving you a new perspective on an issue you think you might know about. There are many invitations to these issues.”

Taste 2009 will take place April 23 at 3175 17th St.