Copper in the Arts

August 2009

Julia Child's Copper Pots Reunited at the Smithsonian

Julia Child Copper PotCurator Paula Johnson installs copper pots on Julia Child's blue-painted pegboard in the Julia Child's Kitchen exhibition at the National Museum of American History, July 29, 2009

Courtesy of The National Museum of American History

Recently, The National Museum of American History acquired the previously "missing" wall of copper pots and utensils that belonged to pioneering American cook Julia Child. The newly installed wall completes the 14-by-20-foot kitchen exhibit, which is on display during the show "Bon Appétit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian."

Thirty gleaming French copper pots and pans and the original painted pegboard on which they hung in her house in Cambridge, Mass., will be added to the original exhibition. The blue-painted pegboard shows an outline for each pot and pan, drawn by husband Paul Child, to ensure each object would be returned to its place on the wall after use.

In addition, the wall contains eight blacksteel crepe pans, four cast-iron baking pans, a giant tea ball and a branding iron with the initials "JC," all of which will be added to the exhibition. Many of these objects were bought by the Childs during their time in France (1948-52) and used for 45 years following their return to the United States.

"Julia Child brought the art and joy of cooking to new audiences and became a culinary heroine," said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. "Her kitchen and the countless gadgets within it are a lasting representation of her wonderful character and the legacy she left behind."

Just prior to her gift of the kitchen to the Smithsonian in 2001, Child lent the wall of copper pots to a California cultural institution where it was exhibited until 2008. Child's family then offered the now-legendary pots and pans to the Smithsonian to be reunited with the rest of the kitchen, bringing the more than 1,000 artifacts together again for the first time since 2001 in a long-term display.

Child's kitchen was the testing site of countless recipes and cooking experiments, many of which were presented to the American public through her popular cookbooks and television appearances. The kitchen served as the set for three of Child's cooking television series. Beginning in 2001, museum staff carefully disassembled and cataloged the contents in Child's home and reassembled the kitchen in the museum gallery. The kitchen is supplemented with videos and photographs, through which visitors can explore Child's early life and career.

The exhibition is located on the first floor of the museum and includes the original cabinets, counters, cookbooks, Garland commercial range and hundreds of other utensils and gadgets. When it opened in 2002, "Bon Appétit!" was meant to be a temporary display; however, warm reception from visitors has made it a long-term exhibition in the museum.


National Museum of American History, National Mall, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., (202) 633-1000

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