Kathleen Thompson Hill scooped up kitchen collectibles others chose to give away and now has a vast collection that captures the way life used to be in the heart of the home.
Her show, “Kitchen Memories,” opens tomorrow at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, where it’s impossible to view her meat grinders, potato mashers and fruit reamers without thinking, at least once, “Oh, I remember these,” usually followed by, “My mom (or my grandma) had one.”
The collection whizzes you into the past while the way it’s displayed wows you. How can you not be mesmerized by two-dozen antique egg beaters floating in mid-air? Or not be taken aback by a 1940s white-enameled O’Keefe and Merritt stove sitting in the museum with a pressure cooker atop its burner?
Complementing Kathleen’s kitchen collection is “Delicious Images: Art About Food,” paintings and works on paper by Wayne Thiebaud and Joseph Goldyne.
Displaying works from their personal collections, the two esteemed contemporary artists bring a haute tone to the otherwise downhome mood. Thiebaud shows his celebrated cakes, cherries and a salt shaker, while Goldyne pairs the work of famous artists with sandwiches, as in a piece with a Picasso with a pastrami titled “Sandwich for Pablo.”
The spark for “Kitchen Memories” came from Executive Director Kate Eilertsen, who admired a small showing of Kathleen’s collection at Maysonnave House two years ago. She went to Kathleen’s home to view the boxes upon boxes of ricers, rolling pins and ice cream scoops and knew they could become a step back in time museum-goers would love. “I was so touched and inspired and I became fascinated,” Kate said. “This will bring up so many memories for people.”
There’s even a place in the collection to share those thoughts of yore. You can sit at a yellow Formica and stainless steel kitchen table, write your memories on a recipe card, and post them on the cork bulletin board hanging just above. It’s an interactive flashback for future visitors to view.
“I can’t wait to stand and watch people look at stuff and talk,” Kathleen said. She never dreamed her passion for pieces of kitchens past would ever end up in a museum. She’s been collecting since the late 1970s, hitting antique collectives and garage sales throughout the western states, Canada, and on several trips to Europe, along with her late husband, Gerald Hill, with whom she authored a series of guidebooks. “I brought some of these things home in my suitcase with my underwear wrapped around it,” she said.
Local architects and museum benefactors Stanley Abercrombie and Paul Vieyra designed the show. “It’s a wonderful, refreshing change from anything we’ve done before. We think it will be refreshing for the visitors. It’s great fun,” Abercrombie said.
There’s a table display full of toasters, including an 1890s iron one made to be held over an open fire, and heavy chrome ones with pushdown levers common in the 1960s. During the installation, Pete Wiklund, a museum volunteer, pointed to one saying, “That’s what I grew up with,” sure to be a common sentiment ignited by many items.
There are books of S&H green stamps, cans of whole eggs from World War II, food pamphlets spanning a century, including “Wartime Ration Recipes” and some of the actual rations. There’s a cache of Campbell’s soup cans, including mock turtle, displayed with a Campbell’s ad from a 1922 Ladies Home Journal.
A hanging display of old menus from such famous establishments as the Olympic Club in San Francisco, The Bookbinders in Philadelphia and Hotel del Coronado in San Diego is delectable, and hundreds, and hundreds of matchbooks adorn a wall, allowing a walk down “I’ve been there,” lane.
“It’s been such a wonderful experience to be the curator of my own show,” Kathleen said. And it’s given her an idea – perhaps she can find a way to have a permanent culinary museum in Sonoma.
Kathleen Hill writes a weekly food column for the Sonoma Index-Tribune, and is well known throughout the Valley, having lived here for 40 years. Museum director Eilertsen predicts this show will break attendance records.