From the farm to the dinner table

Traveling Exhibit
explores America’s food culture

Many special events,
sale of new cookbook planned with exhibit

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

Key Ingredients

Key Ingredients:
America by food
special guide cover.

LA GRANGE, Ky. (August 2006) – Most of us take for granted the things that are set before us on the dinner table. But did you ever stop to wonder who invented frozen foods, ketchup or potato chips? Or have you ever pondered the fact that there was a real person named Duncan Hines behind the cake mixes?
The rich mixture of cultures and cuisines that make up our American food traditions have evolved over time, and food technology has helped create ultra-modern kitchens. “Fried chicken on Sunday” and “as American as apple pie” are phrases that define America’s identity with traditional foods.
The Oldham County History Center has been selected to play host to “Key Ingredients: America By Food,” a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit that is making only six such stops in Kentucky. The exhibit will be on display from Sept. 2 to Oct. 14 in the 1880 Presbyterian Church, now owned by the Oldham County Historical Society. The building is located directly behind the society’s History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange, Ky.
Within the last year, volunteers were asked to locate local menus, pictures, cooking and farming items pertaining to the food culture of Oldham County to play a part in this exhibit. A regional cookbook has been produced, in addition to many year-long food-themed activities and events that have been carefully planned to educate and entertain the general public.

Nancy Theiss

Nancy Theiss

“The Smithsonian is the primo museum in the world,” said Oldham County History Center executive director Nancy Theiss. “Their standards are wonderful.”
The Smithsonian will “give you the meat and potatoes of the exhibit,” said Theiss. “We make it special for our own area.”
Theiss has crafted the exhibit theme to include a local flavor through the educational use of the 1840 root cellar, located behind the History Center Archives building. Use of the cellar localizes the exhibit, she said. Oldham County was once a farming community where housewives would use the cellar to store dairy products and vegetables.
Students use the root cellar to learn how food was prepared and preserved in the past. Usually built over a spring, “everyone had a root cellar,” said Theiss. A visit to the root cellar provides insight for students on the evolution of cooking methods.

• On display Sept. 2 through Oct. 14 at the 1880s Presbyterian Church, located behind the Oldham County History Center,
106 N. Second Ave.,
La Grange, KY.
• Hours: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
• Free Admission
• Sponsors: Kentucky Humanities Council; Oldham County History Center, Smithsonian Institute
• Website: www.museumonmainstreet.org or www.keyingredients.org
• Information: Call the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826

This primitive food storage system was once used for refrigeration. The tools that cooks had to work with more than 100 years ago are on display in the cellar when Theiss leads children on tour there.
The “Key Ingredients: America by Food” traveling exhibit will rotate through Kentucky, making six stops within 2006-2007: Elizabethtown, Georgetown, Harrodsburg, Hazard,
La Grange and Paducah.
On display will be walk-through kiosks featuring items relating to such topics as Hunting and Gathering, Corn, Grist Mills, Local Flavors (Culture), Home Cooking and Marketplaces. The evolution of the American kitchen will be showcased through a large selection of artifacts, photos and illustrations.
Many aspects of food will be covered, from seed plantings and antique farm implements, to the way food is now preserved and our dining habits formed.
It is up to each host location to give the exhibit a local flavor.

"Food Ingredients" Special Events

• Sept. 22-23: Westport Lewis and Clark Riverdaze Celebration. Kentucky Humanities Council speaker Mark Sohn will discuss “Food Along the Lewis and Clark Trail” at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, at the Westport, Ky.,
Mark Sohn
Mark Sohn
Schoolhouse. Sample food from recipes used by explorers and Indians who assisted the Lewis and Clark expedition. The weekend also features a fun run and walk, and a special Native American program and museum featuring the Yaqui River Native Arts with Anthony Redfeather Nava. His visit is sponsored by the Oldham County History Center, Friends of Westport and the Kentucky Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission.
• Sept. 29: Oldham County Historical Society Annual Fall Gala. This annual event is from 6:30 p.m. to midnight and features dinner, silent auction and live music on the History Center grounds.The annual fund raiser will include special activities around the “Key Ingredients: America by Food” exhibit, with a jazz band and dinner catered by Silver Spoon Catering. Tickets: $125 per person, with sponsorship tables available. To reserve, call (502) 222-0826.
Tim French
Tim French
• Sept. 30: Key Ingredients: America by Food Fair. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for this day-long celebration of food, recipes and culinary arts. Authors of cookbooks will be on hand and provide samples. Also featuring a starving artists pottery sale with locally crafted items. Tim French, president of Louisville Stoneware, will speak at noon on “From Earth to table: the craft of pottery and Louisville Stoneware over the last 200 years.” Louisville Stoneware will have a “seconds sale” and children can paint pottery kitchen magnets. Nutrition displays will be provided by the Oldham County Health Department.

“People want to see grandma’s butter molds and churns,” said Connie Minch, the Scott County (Ky.) Cooperative Extension Agent. The extension office was a co-sponsor along with the Georgetown and Scott County History Museum for this exhibit.
The exhibit was on display there from June 4 to July 8, and a number of programs were held for each week. The kickoff event for this exhibit was a picnic, and other events included Chautauqua performances, a biscuit breakfast at the local library and an African American food program given by a resident of the Cayman Islands.
A lot of cookbooks, stoneware and a variety of programming made the exhibit a success in Georgetown, said Georgetown and Scott County History Museum program coordinator Andrew Green. Different crowds were drawn in, composed of people who might not normally visit the museum. In addition to the various events, tours were also given of the exhibit.
Museum attendance was up overall by 25 percent, said Green. He encouraged any organization that has the ability to do so to participate in a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit.
The focus of a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit is to “bring small museum exhibits to small local towns,” said Oldham County’s Theiss. Once an organization becomes a participant, the more credibility that organization receives, she said.
Smithsonian Traveling Exhibits have rotated through more than 350 towns and 36 states. “Key Ingredients: America by Food” has already traveled through Kentucky once, said Theiss. The exhibit will travel to 150 rural communities through 2008.
Kathleen Pool, Assistant Director for Programming and Development Administration for the Kentucky Humanities Council, an exhibit sponsor, said certain criteria are considered closely when choosing the host locations.

Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Large board displays in the Smithsonian
Traveling Exhibit tell the stories of
America’s food culture, including a history
of small-town diners and getting home
grown produce from the farm to
the dining room table. The exhibit
runs through Oct. 14.

She must decide how the exhibit will look in the location that has asked for it. She considers the creativity to provide related events and if a team of scholars and community groups can unite to complete and maintain the exhibit.
“We’re glad to come to Oldham County and work with an organization we have not worked with before,” Pool said.
The Kentucky Humanities Council has worked with the History Center in conjunction with a Speakers Bureau program, but no large-scale exhibit such as this one.
“So many people in communities go to their local museums and think they’ve seen all there is to see and never go back,” said Pool.
“These exhibits are one way to revitalize local museums by adding excitement and providing a reason for locals to return and see something new.”
This experience will provide a long-term effect on the planning of future exhibits, said Pool. “There are a lot of components to a Smithsonian Exhibit,” she said.
Many Kentucky towns have historical societies, but not all have a history museum.
This is one more way the History Center is striving to protect the stories of the people of Oldham County.

Back to September 2006 Articles.



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