By Joel Schiff, August 2005
I believe that the modern museum is in a wonderful (or ‘fraughtfull’, depending on how one looks at it) period of transition. The general outlook that seems to be coming into play is that the worth of a museum/holding is the number of well grounded ‘stories’— narratives re. process and structure, cultural and social perspective, and personal experience, it can tell/support, and progressively, the variety of situations it can have us participate in.
In this we regard, in view of how many different aptitudes and concerns have always been involved, a museum of the hearth and kitchen, would be in a very enviable position.
I don’t believe that my stuff is any more special than other parts of our culture. But what is important is that to my knowledge, while there are museums/historical re-creations that may have a hearth/kitchen, there is, at present, no museum of the hearth/kitchen in the entire US (some of Julia Childs kitchen has gone to the Smithsonian, as well as, I believe, a Vintners Museum in Calif.), but there are a few institutions of memory at all devoted to woman’s contribution to our early domestic economy.
This means that:
1) A whole segment of what esp. was the woman’s experience throughout the ages is not represented in the American experience. While there are a lot of museums devoted to what is one way or another we’re men’s interests, (weapons, cars / trains / airplanes / farm etc. equipment, etc.) aside from those hosting dolls / toys / teddy bears or quilts’, there is little else that seems to be oriented toward the woman’s area — and needless to say:
a) Not only is the ‘hearth’ one of real (vs. hyped) ‘home’ bases of ‘family values’ — the mother-infant relation having, arguably more to do with the acquisition of eg. language and more than the mail-hunting band ( as, cf. Dissanayake in Art & Intimacy);
b) But a lot more of society was involved with how people got to eat, — the stove being the first appliance that came into the home (long before the toilet, for example).
But in addition to the above, absent also is:
2) The technical development of the hearth and kitchen — which at least from the late 17th century to mid -1800s was the largest contributor of US patents; and
3) In consequence, crucially lacking is the part both played in the transition from a Subsistence to Exchange to Corporate culture / society, and the attendant shift from:
a) Relations integrated by values, to one’s integrated by objects—
I) From a ‘moral integument’ of ‘import’, to a ‘functional matrix’ of impact (in both senses)
1 ) A redundantly reinforcing aesthetics of ‘more is more’, to
2) A linear/disposable/constantly re-fashioned one of ‘less is more’,
3) A ‘post modern’ situation of
a) On the one hand, perpetual stimulation, and
b) On the other foot, an attempt to reclaim shared loss with a quasi-communal ‘niche investment’ — of which modern collecting, and the museum etc. is one example.
Again I don’t feel my stuff as singular, but do think that the range of areas that it represents as an ‘earnest of intention’ could also act as a ‘seed investment’ for other ‘kitchenalia’, whose natural home might also best be a hearth / kitchen museum.
Arguably, one of the best features of current museums is that they are becoming ‘interactive’, — also engaging the ‘visitor’ as a participant, — whether one is talking of current science exhibits that have children performing the effects of colored shadows; or the branch of the Museum of the American Indian that allows native peoples to use the museum properties to perform their sacred ceremonies.