In retrospect, the July 2002 news release announcing the opening of “Bon Appetit! Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian” wasn’t overly optimistic. The National Museum of American History scheduled the exhibit to run only through February 2004, a mere 18 months.
Nearly a decade later, the Smithsonian will begin to dismantle Child’s kitchen after the last visitor leaves the museum on Sunday, Jan. 8. Not to worry, though: The kitchen — and its 1,200-plus objects — will return this summer as part of a larger exhibit that will put Child’s favorite room in its proper context.
The forthcoming exhibit is “about big changes in what we ate in the last half of the 20th century,” says co-curator and project director Paula Johnson. Part of it, of course, will feature a certain TV personality — and her kitchen — who towered over American home cooking for years.
That, unfortunately, is all Johnson can say about the planned exhibit. The Smithsonian is expected to issue an announcement soon with more details, she adds.
Johnson is far more comfortable talking about the surprising run of ”Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian,” which has become “one of the go-to exhibits,” says the curator.
“We know people make pilgrimages,” she adds. “They told us so.”
The exhibit’s appeal has worked on a number of levels, Johnson says, whether it’s the chance to peer in (through Plexiglas ports, alas) or watch a clip from one of Child’s cooking shows or just reminisce about the French cooking icon.
“We were really surprised at seeing how many people had personal stories about watching her shows and trying her recipes,” Johnson says. “People are so engaged by her, and continue to be . . . . She just connects with people on a very comfortable level, and we’re very glad with that.”
The exhibit will disappear in much the same way that it appeared: in full view of the public. The curator says crews will be tagging and packing the smaller items starting Monday, and then begin on the larger objects, such as the range and the butcher block, the following week. Visitors can watch the process.
“We’re continuing our tradition of transparency,” says Johnson, no doubt aware of the irony involved when talking about the famous French Chef with her own secretive past.