What's Cooking? Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian
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Exploring Julia Child's Kitchen
Talking with Julia
Packing the Kitchen
Curating the Collection
Creating an Exhibit
Complete Diary Entries

Nanci Edwards

August 28, 2001

Nothing like an hour-and-a-half plane ride to catch up on the reading one always intends to do BEFORE a trip. Having read Julia's biography, I also surfed the Web to collect some additional background information on her. Shuffling through the pages of print-outs, one thing stood out. Julia was organized, a hard worker and the consummate professional and expected those who worked with her to have their act together. This was my goal -- in spite of very little time to pull this trip together -- we were going to demonstrate through our organization, hard work, and professionalism that the Smithsonian was the right place for Julia Child to donate her kitchen.

We were on our way to Cambridge (as soon as the plane took off).

With our equipment and luggage stored in what I began to call the TV Pantry, we sat down to review with Julia and her assistant, Stephanie Hersh, what our plans were for the next two days. Our first step was to take the dimension of the kitchen and create a measured drawing of all the elements in the space (cabinets, appliances, lighting, etc.). While Paula and I did this, Rayna would be the videographer, poking her camera into every cabinet and drawer, and raking it across every counter and shelf.

We completed the measurements in the afternoon and set about the business of creating a database to begin listing each item in the kitchen and its location.

Suddenly, we realized that the kitchen was getting pretty dark -- it was approaching 6:30 p.m.! We let Stephanie know we were leaving and would see her in the morning.

Luggage in tow (thank heavens for those little wheels) we decided we could walk to our hotel. The walk became a hike -- and finally a chore -- never again while toting luggage!

August 29, 2001

The documentation continued as Julia conducted interviews in the kitchen -- it made for fascinating eavesdropping -- the "fright" knife, her favorite Duranel pot, Paul's drawings on the pegboard . . . . We needed to make sure we completed our work by late afternoon -- it was all the time we had. We worked through lunch -- never a good idea for three people who start to get cranky without fuel/food. We rummaged through our misc. bags and came up with some chocolate, a pear, and something less than nutritious -- we were back in business.

Julia perched on a stool in the kitchen this afternoon and watched for a few minutes. How were we doing, did we sound goofy? Jeez, we didn't want to blow this.

By our count we recorded approximately 1,200 items, from Garland range to fish scalers, that we would propose collecting from Julia. We had opened every cabinet and drawer. We listed the signaling mirror we assume was from Julia's WWII days, a gift from "Jim" Beard of a champagne bottle corker, denim aprons, a gazillion sauté pans, knives, knives, and more knives, among many others.

Before we left, Julia and Stephanie joined us in the kitchen and we reviewed what we had completed. Then we asked if Julia would mind, and if Stephanie would take, our picture. We posed in front of the Garland range, and with Julia reminding us to say "soufflé," we smiled, and I mean really smiled.

September 10, 2001

Our flight out of D.C. was delayed. We sat on the tarmac for two hours waiting to take off. Not much we can do except review the approach we had come up with for tomorrow's filming. 11 p.m. and we finally made it to the hotel -- to a note from Paula saying she was out provisioning and she would call us when she returned.

A little wine, some dried apricots, nuts, and some pastry from the divine chocolate store in Harvard Square, and we begin to feel much better. We went over the next day's filming and finally turned in around 1 a.m.

September 11, 2001

Rayna leaves early to get to the house. The crew should be arriving around
8:00 a.m. with filming scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. Paula and I were charged with rounding up bagels, pastry, fruit, juice, and whatever else would stave off hunger.

We arrive a few minutes before 8 and begin setting up breakfast in the butler's pantry. By 8:45 we were in the dining room walking through the shooting schedule with Julia's producer, Geoff Drummond.

In the kitchen the cameras were in place, the lighting adjusted, and with a little time to go before Julia came downstairs, a member of the film crew turned on the TV in Julia's kitchen.

We were still in the dining room when one of crew came running in and what I heard was "World Trade Towers" -- "plane" -- "on fire." Is this some story on the anniversary of the WTT bombing, I remember thinking. Then the rest of the words filtered through and like the others I found myself hurrying to the kitchen to watch what turned out to be a day of horror for our nation.

To be in Boston, to have flown in the night before, to hear from a distance that another plane hit the Pentagon, which is a mile and a half from our home -- in our neighborhood really -- to not be able to reach ANYONE and hear that they are ok, to tell them that you are ok. And to realize that hundreds of thousands of people are in the same boat -- is not a feeling I want to experience again.

Julia arrived in the kitchen and joined us at the table and together we watched the news for what seemed like hours but in reality was probably less than an hour. Julia told the group that she felt that we had a lot to do that day, and that we should turn off the television and that we would turn it back on at lunch.

We followed her lead and camera positions were taken. Rayna and Paula joined Julia at the table and the interview began.

First we brought out all the gadgets -- the ones we had not a clue as to what they were -- and laid them in front of Julia and asked her to identify them and explain how they were used. I think she got all but one!

The morning sped by with objects we selected, or alternately Julia selected, placed on the table. We found out she refers to her Kitchen Aid stand mixer as her "K5A" -- its model number! She asked for all her knives and then talked her way through which three she would select as critical to a well-equipped kitchen, "or maybe four -- well this one is handy -- so maybe you could get by with three, but these others are certainly useful!"

Lunch found us all gathered around the large dining room table eating leftovers -- veal stew from an event the night before, some cold mussels, bagels from the morning, definitely pot-luck! Some of us wandered between dining room and kitchen to watch the news or join in the conversation. Conversation focused on the unfolding tragedy, how would the new president handle this, were the airports closed, could we get our hotel rooms for another night until the airport re-opened?

All airports are closed.

Phone calls to home or office proved fruitless. Finally Paula reached her husband and Rayna and I asked him to call our homes and let everyone know we were okay, just stranded.

Filming continued. Julia talked about her kitchen, about how this was the center of her home. She reminisced about a gathering of neighbors to watch the aftermath of JFK's assassination. The Childs had one of the few TVs in the neighborhood. The filming ended with Julia talking about her kitchen going to the Smithsonian and what it meant to her.

By 6:30 that evening the equipment was packed up and loaded into vans, cars. The TV was turned off. Offers of a ride to Connecticut were gratefully turned down; we decided to see if we could rent a car the next day. Julia and Stephanie joined us as everyone said goodbye to each other. It had been a day I will not forget, spent with colleagues, old friends, and new friends.

We returned to the hotel to again watch the news, try to call home, and to see what tomorrow would bring.

December 2-3, 2001

With the smaller items from Julia's kitchen stored in the West End Gallery, it was time for the Museum's historic restoration staff to load their tools and supplies into a rented van and drive up to Cambridge. I would meet them in Cambridge the next evening.

It is one thing to demolish a room -- it is quite another endeavor to dismantle a room so that it can be reassembled. Fortunately we had just the men for the job! Three of the staff had just finished working on the centerpiece of the Within These Walls… exhibition -- an 18th-century timber frame house from Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Prior to leaving the Museum, our web office loaned me a digital video and still image cameras -- neither of which I had used before! However, after a quick walk-through, I stowed the manuals in my bag for reading on the plane.

December 4, 2001

We arrive at Julia Child's house and survey the kitchen. The tools are unloaded from the van and our work begins.

The first step was to move as many of the larger appliances out of the kitchen and into the hall as possible. We had measured the Garland and all doorways in August and were pretty sure it would just make it. Thank goodness our measurements held up! The refrigerator, dishwasher, and icemaker join the stove awaiting crating in the front hall.

As the appliances were moved out, I assessed the kitchen for any additional items that needed to be packed. The metal hooks for the pegboard will not survive the trip in their holes. I key each one with a piece of tape indicating which holes the hook goes into and its position on the board. Then each hook is removed to a zip-lock bag. All small architectural elements are labeled and packed in boxes as they come off the walls.

Two hours go by and I realize I had better get the digital cameras out and begin filming before the entire kitchen is disassembled! Our staff is really moving. Unlike a lot of the cabinets that are installed today, these cabinets were built in place. This complicates the take-down, requiring in some cases disassembling and reassembling, and bracing for shipment and storage. One of the lower cabinets had been retrofitted to move out of the kitchen during filming and we were able to roll this out of the kitchen and into the hall.

The objective is to get as much done today as possible; the staff from Industrial Crating arrives tomorrow afternoon.

December 5, 2001

Deinstallation continues. The wall oven and warming drawer are removed and then the cabinet is disassembled. After removing the sink, it becomes clear that one of the pieces of wood running the length of this cabinet is 135" long. It will end up sticking out, about 5 feet from the rest of the cabinet. This will make for a tricky packing job as there is nothing to secure it to and the sheer act of moving it out of the kitchen could damage the piece as well. Cutting it off is NOT an option! The movers will arrive in the afternoon -- we will discuss the situation at that time.

By the end of the afternoon, all the cabinets have been removed. Stephanie surveys the kitchen and we agree on what holes have to be repaired. This work will be completed the next day as the movers are crating the cabinets and appliances.

The staff from Industrial Crating arrive in the afternoon and assess the situation. As we talk to the driver, he tells us that he volunteered for this trip after hearing the details of the job. It turns out that he wants to go to culinary school and has been an admirer of Julia's for years. Another fan surfaces in this project!

A small glitch -- the corner cupboard that had to be disassembled and reassembled will not fit out any of the doorways in the kitchen. We will deal with this tomorrow.

December 6, 2001

The cabinet has not shrunk overnight. Joe Criste, the NMAH work leader for the take-down, thinks about this situation for a minute or two, pulls out his tape measure and measures a window in the kitchen. Eureka! In short order the storm window is removed, the sash cord undone, and sash removed. The cabinet is lifted through the window for crating in the driveway.

The weather is cooperating -- it is December in Massachusetts and the temperature is 60 degrees, clear and sunny. We move the appliances and cabinets out to the driveway to assist the staff from Industrial Crating.

During some downtime I asked Stephanie if it would be okay to show our crew the rest of the house -- having been confined to the kitchen and hallway for most of their time here. We walk thru the house, and upon reaching Julia's office, pause to look at all the cookbooks. Joe reaches for one and sits down to flip through it. All of sudden he points to a picture of wild game being grilled and says, "Hey Rob, this is the way I want you to butcher the next deer you get. If you do it this way (pointing to a picture in In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs) I will make this dinner for us." There are chefs everywhere!

As the truck was being loaded, a mother walked by the house and said to her young daughter, "Look, there goes Julia Child's kitchen -- they're taking it to the Smithsonian." Word travels fast.

We had just finished loading the last crate in the truck when Stephanie appears with copies of In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs for the staff from Industrial Crating and the NMAH. What you can't hear in this photo is everyone saying "soufflé" as the picture was taken.

August 1, 2002

There are lots of details and decisions in an exhibition project like this, and one that is likely to be "beneath notice" of visitors is how we have chosen to deal with the kitchen floor.

Julia's floor was installed in 1961, as part of the Child's kitchen renovation. It was a sheet good, manufactured by Armstrong. Last fall, We made the decision not to collect the floor due to the possibility of asbestos in the adhesive.

After disassembling the kitchen, we were able to find a corner that was not glued down and we cut off this corner, placed it in a ziplock bag and brought it back to the museum. Our intention was to take a digital image of the linoleum and match it to a new floorcovering. Unfortunately this floorcovering is no longer being made. What to do?

The creative folks in our Graphics Production office came up with the idea of digitizing the floor sample, creating a repeat, and then pasting the repeat into a digital file to create a floor graphic. Voila, Julia's kitchen floor!

The digital output was attached to a thin, fairly rigid, and strong support, in 4' x 8' sheets. Using carpet glue, these sheets were then adhered to the platform upon which we had built Julia's kitchen. We have found the graphic to be surprisingly durable, but have recently adopted a "socks only" policy with the increase in people working in the kitchen.

See more diaries:

Rayna Green
Paula Johnson

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