|photo courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library|
On May 24, 2018, we celebrated the opening of “Mixed Messages: Making and Shaping Culinary Culture in Canada”, at Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. This exhibition takes a look at how the culinary culture of Toronto and surrounding areas was made and shaped by those who participated in or were excluded from the making and using of culinary materials. On display we have some delicious objects from the 1820s to the 1960s. Many of the objects on display have been donated by Mary Williamson, an extraordinary collector of culinary materials from Toronto. Thanks to her, we were able to work with numerous treasures from Canada’s culinary history: community cookbooks from the turn of last century; wartime cookbooks; commercial cookbooklets; historic women’s magazines. Alongside these objects, we also selected culinary manuscripts, home economics manuals, photographs and women’s magazines from the Fisher’s existing collections.
Setting the exhibition’s stories through collaborations
As one of the curators mentioned in her remarks at the exhibition launch, “it takes a village to plan an exhibition”. This couldn’t be truer of this project! In this post, I celebrate the collaborations that made this exhibition possible. The process of a collaborative curation was rewarding but also challenging, as people with different academic backgrounds, perspectives on culinary culture, and expertize had to negotiate their differences and produce coherent and harmonious content. I believe that in the end we found power in our differences and worked very smoothly together. Throughout the collaborative process, we came to think of the many women whose stories we tell in the exhibition as our project partners. They shared their stories through the diaries they kept, cookbook they wrote, recipes they created, and cooking courses they taught, and we were lucky to be able to present their works.
|An example of a manuscript recipe book from the exhibition, featuring a recipe for Madras Curry |
label 3 provides the interpretation; photo courtesy of Irina D. Mihalache
|The first Asian cookbook published in North America|
label 19 provides the interpretation
|Mixed Messages curators, left to right: Cassandra Curtis, Sadie MacDonald, Irina D. Mihalache, |
Liz Ridolfo & Nathalie Cooke; photo courtesy of Paul Terefenko
|Display of Corporate Cookbooks and the Spokespersonality Phenomenon; |
photo courtesy of Irina D. Mihalache
As we started work on the exhibition, we realized the opportunity to graduate and undergraduate bring students on board and to get them involved with various aspects of the exhibition.
|Introductory panel to the Maclean Hunter Room|
|Display case exploring themes of othering in culinary materials|
Forty seven graduate students from a Museum Studies graduate course I taught in Fall 2017 were invited to contribute stories about culinary objects to the exhibition. Each student was paired up with an object, which they researched and interpreted, resulting in some fascinating stories, included on two digital stations in the exhibition.
|Digital station with touchable screen|
|Stories about women’s magazines – visitors can select which one to read|
Prof. Mihalache researches how (and what) people eat in museums; the history of women’s committees in art galleries in North America; and historic women’s magazines and recipe competitions in Canada. On these topics, she wrote several articles and chapters in food and museum studies journals and edited volumes. In 2016, she co-edited the volume Food and Museums, the first to explore the depth of connections between the two.
In museum studies, her main area of interest is museum interpretation and she is very interested in how collaborations with diverse communities can shape the work of storytelling in museums. She has done collaborative work with the Toronto Ward Museum, the city’s new museum of migration and the Fort York National Heritage Site.