Friday, August 21, 2009

The Southern Table

The idea was to create an exhibit that showcased each southern state together in one place - literally at a table. The journey to begin to set the table has been arduous. I have been so surprised at how difficult it has been to gather the place settings. Although not all of the place settings have arrived, we are beginning to lay out this exhibit. Then we will see what holes we have to fill.

A curious fact is that Washington, DC, a mere city, has no official residence and no official china. So we have been able to decide for ourselves what should represent Washington, DC on the table. Louisiana and Arkansas have provided handmade place settings. Some states have provided official place settings.

But starting to see the exhibit take shape has made me see how the metaphor of all of the states gathered at a table is really touching and powerful. Next week we will begin posting photos of the table. I would love to see a huge exhibit with a place setting from every state in the US.

Your ideas for the table, menus and books, other table props would be appreciated.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lessons Learned in Graduate School

Oftentimes graduate students can become so passionate about their field that we don’t do what journalists or even Phd students always do, go to the source. In an academic paper I published for the University of Toronto, Food Conjures Memory: Making Memory in the Museum, I made some assumptions about British culinary historian Ivan Day. Day contacted me through SoFAB and said:

Dear Zella,

I have read with interest your paper entitled "Food Conjures Memory". I enjoyed your argument and agree with most of your conclusions. However, I feel rather surprised that you should conclude from a brief online resume of a course I offer on sugar and. confectionery, that I am guilty of the following. "By blatantly omitting or silencing any mention of the historical contributions of others, historians and museologists perpetuate the same imperialist ideology that have affected the world for centuries".
My confectionery course lasts two days and though it is a practical session, the imperial aspects of the sugar trade are actually explored in considerable depth. In fact, I am offering a free place on this particular course so that you can see for yourself what it is really about. On the contrary, I curated an exhibition here in the UK at Harewood House 7 years ago that explored the whole issue of the sugar trade in the eighteenth century. I contrasted the excesses of luxury enjoyed by the British patrician classes at the dessert table with the horror and privatization of the lives of the plantation slaves who produced the sugar that graced their exuberant desserts. In one room, an elaborate table setting shared a space with an original copy of a slave purchase ledger that belonged to the Lascelles family who built Harewood House. The Lascelles family owned extensive plantations in Barbados and the luxurious house they built was funded by money made from human misery. We made this very clear in this particular exhibit. I am sorry I do not have your direct email address and have sent this to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in the hope that it gets passed on to you. Good luck with your internship there and I look forward to your reply.

With every best wish,

Ivan Day

Needless to say I learned my lesson and I want to share this lesson with all students out there. GO TO THE SOURCE! Never assume that everyone is part of some evil conspiracy. Lol. When I wrote this paper I was reading some pretty heavy books about food globalization and exploitation. Although, I stand by my argument in my paper I did make the mistake of not contacting Ivan Day directly to ask him what he felt about the sugar trade. But this is the point of Graduate School to learn from your rights and wrongs. So, I would like to make a formal apology to Mr. Day and to thank him for his well wishes even after I made some negative accusations about his work. We sure would love to do something with you in the future at Southern Food & Beverage Museum and I can sit down with you and sweeten you up with pralines, Red Velvet Cake and Bananas Foster! Please find out more about Ivan Day @

*Ivan has an international reputation for his research on British and European culinary history. As well as a scholar, broadcaster and writer, he is also a gifted professional cook and confectioner. He is noted particularly for his re-creations of meals and table settings. His work has been exhibited in many museums, including the Paul Getty Research Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of London, Fairfax House, the Bowes Museum and the Rothschild Collection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

St. Joseph's Altar

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog. I have spent my time writing on Facebook and Twitter and I have not had something organized and longer to say. But now I do.

At SoFAB, we were the beneficiaries of the helping hands of students and faculty from Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC. These wonderful people gave us an entire day. They removed a wall that was standing behind the St. Joseph's Altar, and which opened up a new gallery where we plan to expand our exhibits. The Altar was placed in a niche created by a false wall in an archway. It looked nice there, but was often unseen. It was out-of-the-way. The students moved the altar carefully and reassembled it in an area that has better light and that can be seen on all sides. The altar is now garnering comments from visitors and resulting in lots of questions about the St. Joseph's celebration.

It is amazing how placement makes a difference. We thought that we had placed the altar in a place of prominence. But we hadn't. We had tucked it away. It is being appreciated and explored now. A welcome, but unintended by-product of the volunteers' work.