Archive in Five: Taking the Library on Tour

This semester I embarked on a delicious journey through the Winterthur Library’s Rare Books Collection. As part of an Independent Study, I developed and then implemented a public-facing program titled “Archive in Five.” Each week, I took a cart set up with three to four objects from the Rare Books Collection into the Galleries Reception Atrium (GRA) and gave quick “five” minute presentations to museum visitors. I wanted to gain experience with public programming and interacting with guests, as well as dig deeper into the Winterthur Library Collections that highlighted food studies.

Image: WPAMC Class of 2018 fellow, Rachel Asbury, and the “Archive in Five” cart. This week’s theme was canning, and the four booklets displayed on foam cradles all relate to home or commercial canning in the early twentieth century.

Image: Part of the display for the canned foods themed “Archive in Five” was this recipe booklet titled “How to Serve, How to Buy Canned Salmon.” Who knew that needed special instructions?

My personal research interests lie in the realm of historic foodways and cooking related ephemera, so together with Emily Guthrie, Winterthur Library Director and NEH Librarian, I designed my Independent Study to focus on this topic. Our library actually has an incredible collection cookery books, appliance manuals, recipe booklets, and food-focused advertisements; many of these make up a significant portion of the Saul Zalesch Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. These objects are not the typical high-style decorative arts associated with HF du Pont and the Winterthur Museum. But they remain important American antiques and a vastly underutilized resource at Winterthur. I therefore wanted to raise public awareness for the research library itself, while also highlighting the value of these items for exploring American foodways and the many ways food can be a critical interpretative tool for museums of material culture.

Image: The “Archive in Five” cart set up in the GRA. A rolling cart on wheels displays three booklets for this week’s theme: “Cooking with Cold.” Items included a refrigerator instruction manual, an ice cream mold catalog, and a recipe booklet for refrigerator desserts.

In order to develop “Archive in Five,” I started by exploring the kitchen appliance and food related items in the Saul Zalesch Collection and taking notes on different subjects, illustration or photography styles, unusual advertisements or products, and the general condition of particular items. Next, I developed six themes or central ideas for different “Archive in Five” presentations and then created small “curated” collections of objects to be used for each day. The six themes included “New Kitchen Technology,” “Party Desserts,” “Home Canning and Canned Foods,” “Jell-O Day,” “Cooking with Cold,” and a Christmas themed day to tie into Winterthur’s Yuletide celebration. Along with the three to four items that went on the cart in the GRA, I also designed a display of objects and explanatory text to go in the Rare Books Room in case any museum guest wanted to visit the library and learn more. Beyond the museum itself, a series of weekly Facebook posts highlighted other foodways related objects in the library’s collection to bring attention to a wider online audience.

Image: The display set up in the Rare Books Room in the Winterthur Library that accompanied the “Cooking with Cold” day, featuring refrigerator manuals from competing brands and more recipe booklets for chilled or frozen foods. I always included an explanation of my Independent Study and then wrote “label copy” for the types of items on display.

Once my “mini-exhibits” were designed, it was time to take the “Archive in Five” cart on tour! I usually took the cart out once a week, trying out different times, days, and locations in the GRA each trip. Interacting with guests in the GRA was quite the learning experience. While some trends in visitor interaction were expected – Fridays were far busier than Tuesdays – there were also some unanticipated surprises. For example, it quickly became apparent that I needed to specify these were items from the “research library” and not from the du Pont family’s Memorial Library inside the house itself. Cart positioning was also incredibly important; I doubled the number of interactions I had with guests just by moving the cart alongside the entrance to the galleries instead of opposite. I also discovered that three items on the cart was the “ideal” amount of information for most guests to pique their interest without overwhelming them with information. These subtle changes helped to create a better presentation of the library’s materials and allowed for an improved visitor experience.

Image: For week seven, the display took a detour away from food to highlight three Christmas gift catalogs in honor of the Yuletide celebration and tours starting at Winterthur. These included a toy and home goods catalog from the Universal Merchandising Company (left), a high-end jewelry catalog shaped like a hat box (bottom right), and an early DIY manual for painting your own presents published by du Pont’s Duco Paint brand (top right).

All of my “findings” will be formatted into a short guide for the Winterthur Library along with outlines for the content, materials, and set up for each themed day. Now that I have a developed system for my “Archive in Five” presentations, I hope to continue this project into the spring semester and raise more awareness for the Winterthur Library. However, I hope it is also something that can be continually implemented after my graduation. It is a wonderful way to expand visitor assumptions about what they can see and learn on a trip to Winterthur.

 

By Rachel Asbury, WPAMC Class of 2018

 

 



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