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

Rayna Green

November 11, 2001, afternoon

The first wave of "Team Julia" is about to go to Cambridge to begin takedown of the kitchen. I'm grateful, as I pack to take the plane to Cambridge, that I don't have to take all the cameras and recorders this time. It's the first time we've flown since 9/11 and no one knows what security will be like. Hugh, our photographer, is taking all the equipment and film with him on the train where he won't have to worry about x-raying our unexposed film -- just another thing we've spent weeks worrying about.

Steve Velasquez, the collections manager for the Division of Cultural History, has most of the small packing supplies -- pre-marked tags, baggies, marking pens, pencils, twill tape, buffered tissue paper -- with him. He and Cedric, loaded down, meet me at the airport. All the big packing supplies -- the boxes, the bubble wrap, the giant rolls of tape -- will be delivered to Julia's house tomorrow. We land, get the rental car, find our hotel, and I rest up while the boys eat dinner with Steve's sister.

November 12, 2001

So, in the morning, all I have to do is get fruit and cookies for the team, find a source of microfoam for packing, and get to Julia's early so I can meet the rest of the team. Cindy and Alexis show up and join me, Steve, and Ced for a strategy session while Hugh starts setting up umbrellas, sandbags, lights and cameras for the glamour shots of the kitchen. These pictures have to get done before we start removing everything from the cabinets and walls. When we reconstruct the kitchen in the museum, we'll have these beautiful pictures to work from. But we have to figure a way to sequence the shots, so we can pack around him. We have four days and then the truck will come to take the contents of the kitchen to Washington. So we work out a plan to minimize falling all over each other and maximize our packing.

Julia's house is humming. Stephanie, Penny, and Cheryl, Julia's assistants, are packing things upstairs. Everything has to be finished in December. Julia left the house for California only on Saturday. Naturally, all of "Team Julia" downstairs really, really wishes Julia was still there; it feels strange to be rummaging through her house and kitchen while she's away. The phone rings constantly. Delivery men bring our packing supplies and the chief delivery man begs to come in and see Julia's famous kitchen.

Other old friends and colleagues of Julia show up at the door, coming by the house to pick up or deliver all sorts of things. Russ Morash, the producer of This Old House and The Victory Garden and of Julia's first and famous cooking show, The French Chef, comes to the door to talk with Stephanie. He tells us some stories while we work and offers his support for our collecting the kitchen.

Hugh photographs, Steve and Ced set up the packing routine, Cindy, Alexis and I begin taking things down to inspect, wipe, wash, and tag each one. We're following the actual inventory plan Paula, Nanci and I developed in August.

We start with Wall A, the wall where the Garland Range and cabinets are. We'll begin with things inside the cabinets and drawers since we won't be photographing those this time. We did that in August. Out come the first drawer contents from AD1 -- oyster knives, garlic presses, peelers, zesters, a jar opener, assorted melon ballers, ice cream scoops -- and from AD2, microplane grater, shrimp deveiners, cheese slicers, a lobster claw cracker, and other shellfish shucking knives, several whatzit's that we obviously didn't make Julia ID for us in August. The thing Paula called "a leg of lamb bone grabber," we learn later, is called a manche a gigot -- well, a kind of a leg of lamb bone grabber. Into the sink they all go.

Cindy washes, I dry, Alexis tags and takes to Steve and Ced, who bag, wrap, count, and pack, checking everything off and making corrections to our list as they go. On to AD3 (steak knives, pastry tips), 4 (jars and plastic ware, of which we choose a few), 5 (pot and pan lids), 6 (cherry pitter, olive pitter, marrow scoops), 7 (a drawer where treasures abound, a champagne cork James Beard gave her, her signaling mirror from World War II), 8 (dishtowels), 9 (aprons), 10 (miscellaneous junk drawer -- yes, Julia has one, too). Off to the interior of the upper cabinets with cups, glasses, gratin pans, egg cups and teapots, then spices (where I inventory and mostly throw away). As with washing things, we have to make sure no organic matter accompanies us back to the Museum. And so it goes through the day. We switch jobs from time to time. We have to ask Stephanie hundreds of questions. I am getting dishpan hands. We finally quit at 8, everyone tired and hungry.

November 13, 2001

Hugh sets up again, doing the last of the glamour shots and digital shots of the team working (and posing!!!!!!!!!!). We take a group shot, I "scare" the team into more work with a favorite prop from Julia's TV show, her huge "fright knife"; Alexis and Steve (shame! without their white gloves!!!!!!!!) have fun with packing Julia's heart-shaped pastry rings and kitchen lorgnette. Archivists from the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe arrive to take away boxes of papers and books Julia has given them. "Hi, Schlesinger!" "Hi, Smithsonian!" We wave and happily continue the packing frenzy. I wash. I wash. I wash. I'm washing because I'm just a curator who doesn't have the object caretaking skills that the collections management people have. They wouldn't (and shouldn't!) trust me to pack things correctly. But Hah!!!!!!! I know a larding needle from a trussing needle, and I can make the big decisions, like how many of Julia's dishtowels and pot holders we should take. A team dinner in a terrific Italian restaurant in Boston's North End gives us sustenance to push on.

November 14-15, 2001

We are progressing through the kitchen. Everything from Wall A is packed. Julia's favorite aluminum pots, all the crocks (labeled "Spoonery," "Spats," "Forkery") from the stove shelf, the pot lids from behind the shelf, and all the big metal utensils hanging from the hood and stove are bagged and bubble-wrapped. Wall B falls to our hands. Julia's refrigerator magnets, glass cats and roosters, pots de crème, tin fish molds, cookbooks and videos of her cooking shows are in boxes. We have eaten our way through bags of pizza and sandwiches, boxes of Julia's favorite snack, goldfish crackers, a crate of clementines, and tons of terrific cookies and pastries from the Italian bakeries. We've got to finish most everything by this evening because the truck comes Friday. On these days, we're not working around Hugh anymore, but around Julia's plumbers and electricians who've come to disconnect and take apart all the gas and electric lines, water lines, and plumbing in this kitchen. By now, the kitchen is beginning to look stripped. Julia's assistants and service men of many years and all the many friends who come by the house are startled by the looks of a place they have loved. The plumber promises to bring his children to Washington to see the exhibit of the kitchen, and all the rest say they are glad the Museum is taking the kitchen. But everybody, including each of us, is just a little sad. Our work here is coming to an end.

November 16, 2001

My legs are killing me after standing up all day for four days. I cut my middle finger on the blade from the food processor, fortunately the only casualty of the whole process. We are all feeling a little battered, but happy because everything has gone well. All of us go through every drawer, cabinet, shelf to make sure we haven't left anything behind. All the appliances, table, chairs -- everything -- gets tagged, and we determine what's left for our second team in December, the team that will come to get the big stuff. We fret over the as-yet-missing truck and then get the driver's phone call. He's on his way. I have to leave for a plane. The rest of them stay to load the truck and then they leave. Our part in the takedown is over. We go back to Washington to wait for the truck's arrival on Monday.

November 19, 2001

Julia's kitchen starts arriving at the Museum!!

9:30 a.m. Industrial Crating's driver calls Steve. He's on 14th Street and headed for our loading dock with the first part of Julia's kitchen arriving from Massachussetts. Steve notifies me and Security, calls Ed in the Objects Processing Facility, grabs David and Ced while I call Paula and Nanci, and we all tumble onto the loading dock like a bunch of puppies who just got called for chow. We push the flatbed trucks onto the dock edge while the driver goes through our security drill. The best and most delicious moment comes when the security officer arrives with his dog, who gets to sniff down all the boxes of Julia's kitchenware on the truck. We warn Doggie that some fabulous smells from Julia's culinary history have got to be in these boxes, but he is undeterred -- as he should be -- by wonderful odors that aren't dangerous. We take pictures of him working so we can let Julia know that she passed inspection. What took us five days to pack gets unloaded into the gallery in 30 minutes. Everything looks fine, boxes and tape intact . . . no damage. Now we have a gallery full of boxes (kitchen tools and utensils and small appliances) and Julia's kitchen table and chairs, waiting for the stove and cabinets and sink to come next month.

December 10, 2001

The kitchen sink arrives!

All the big pieces just came into the dock this morning. We have pallet-jacked all the giant crates with the stove, fridge, cabinetwork, wall oven, butcher block, and dishwasher inside, into the gallery with the boxes. The Garland Range is back in Washington where Julia got it in 1956! The kitchen is in its new home! All our Historic Restoration guys -- Rob, Peter, Joe, and Geoff -- who took the kitchen apart last week come down to see their handiwork arrive safely.

December 15, 2001 - February 2002

Everything since the second truck got here in December has been a scramble. We've had to get everything in the Gallery arranged for the cataloging exhibit, and basically less than two months to do it has left us all breathless. Team Julia's Project Manager Nanci, co-curators Paula and me, and Collections Manager Steve have been joined by Designer Nigel, Webmeisters Judy, Matt, and Curtis, educators Heather and Julia (Julia Squared as we call her), Collections Documentation Specialists Sue and Andrea, Development Manager Maggie, Production Honcha Catherine, Public Affairs Manager Valeska and Cynthia, our Collections Management Intern to:

Design the space in the Gallery;
Develop and design labels, signs, posters, and the "look" of the exhibition;
Produce the labels, signage, and posters;
Develop programs for the run of the exhibition;
Develop a cataloging worksheet and a strategy for getting 1,200 objects cataloged (into the computer);
Coordinate the media frenzy about to descend on us;
Develop the content of and design the Web site;
Get all the "images" (photos, videos) in shape for the Web and the exhibit;
Develop and coordinate the volunteers to help with the
Raise the money we need for this small exhibition and the future 'big" exhibit of the restored kitchen.

I'm plotzing!!!!!!!! This will never happen in time, I think, but it does. Team Julia hurtles at headlong speed down a very fast track, an Olympic luge team determined to beat its own best time. The media frenzy begins and we get great press!!!!!! The Web site looks fabulous. No one gets bumped off the track.

On Friday afternoon, February 1, Nigel, Steve and I push crates and tables and supplies around in the Gallery. We've got lots of blue board, number 2 pencils, marking pens, tape measures, microfoam, ratchet wrenches, crowbars, Exacto knives. The computer is working, and Cynthia is managing to understand the database system. Nanci is keeping up with the scheduling and succeeding in keeping the costs in line. Object storage units are up against the wall. At 4:48, Nigel decides to put the stainless steel sink in the window display area. We make a label that says "Stainless Steel Sink, 1961" and carefully lift it into the window, gleaming against the teal cloth beneath. Yes, we have everything AND the kitchen sink!

February 4-16, 2002

8:30am. Omar and Lou and Peter and Rob and Geoff are putting up the main labels on the columns outside the gallery. The plexiglass "viewing" cage goes up in the entryway. Three volunteers are attending orientation over in the Castle. Paula and Steve check over the cataloging process. We open the crate with the modular piece of cabinetwork. We fill out a catalog worksheet as a test. Steve brings down Julia's whisk and blowtorch we collected in 1986, and we put them in the window with the sink -- accompanied by open pages from Julia's cookbooks which show her using these tools.

The volunteers arrive and we put them through the drill of the cataloging process with the contents of other crates. Ed and Estelle from the Museum's Objects Processing Facility examine the contents of each opened crate with us, and we do what we're supposed to do. In pairs, we measure, condition report, describe, photograph, tag and number everything that comes out of the crate. Paula and I make "curatorial decisions," like what stays in crates and what comes out to be shown during the next several months and what the label accompanying an exhibited item will say. We have begun.

Day by day, with new volunteers to train -- all of whom have pitched in immediately and begun this enormous task -- we open crates and do the work of cataloging. We've been doing all the big pieces first -- the appliances and the cabinetwork, periodically opening something smaller just for variety. We unpack Julia's three-legged chairs and her heavy French mortar and pestle, and then revert to the big things, dramatically opening the Garland Range crate for a television crew. Our volunteers are thrilled and moved to unpack Julia's diploma from the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and we are quite happy to see the things we packed up in November emerge from their bubble-wrapped and bagged-up boxes. We pull out Julia's Norwegian kitchen table from its wrappings and then her "manche a gigot" (that's "a lamb leg bone grabber" to us English speakers) from its box. In the window it goes. We are happily well into it, this "little" project.

See more diaries:

Nanci Edwards
Paula Johnson

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