Tourism and Dining – end of the summer pleasures at Cooper-Hewitt

I had the pleasure of experiencing two lovely exhibitions at Cooper-Hewitt this weekend.  They are closing soon, so if you find yourself in NYC before the end of October 2006, treat yourself and do not miss them!  (

Yellowstone, Thomas Moran  It might surprise you to know that Cooper-Hewitt has the largest collection of works by Frederic Church and Winslow Homer, in the world.  The current exhibition Frederic Church, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape shows them off beautifully.  The show transports the visitor to Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, the Adirondacks, Acadia, the Grand Canyon, and beyond, to illustrate how the influential works of these 19th century artists embedded images of iconic American landscapes into our national collective consciousness.  Their sketches, drawings and paintings inspired decorative arts as well, that brought these landscapes home to the armchair traveler, including stereoviewer cards, wallpaper, games and tableware, all of which are on view.  Their images even influenced public policy, which, together with photographs from land surveyors of the time, spurred Congress to set aside large tracts of land for public use.

   Who would guess that in the early 20th century, potato chips would be served with this beautiful silver spoon from Tiffany’s?!  You’ll find this and a plethora of additional interesting facts about gastronomy through the ages in Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500–2005.  This delicious exhibition begins with the chronologies of the fork, knife and spoon, in which the visitor learns, for example, that the fork suffered discrimination because of its association with the devil, and was not adopted into regular table use until the late 18th century.  In the 16-17th centuries, people traveled with their own cutlery;  it became proper etiquette to point the sharp edge of one’s knife toward the user to avoid offense or confusion about the implement’s role as weapon or eating utensil… a tradition which continues today!  The exhibition shows off Cooper-Hewitt’s impressive collection of cutlery, including train and airplane tableware, ergonomic and colorful utensils, and those carved from wood, ivory and metal.  Examples cover the gamut of decoration and style, from naturalistic to ritualistic, and from 16th century Europe to 21st century Chicago.

But by far my favorite part of the exhibition was devoted to specialty tools.  Here one learns that, for example, the first written American recipe for ice cream is in Thomas Jefferson’s hand, and that ice cream used to be served via hatchet or saw, and always eaten with a fork.  19th century Americans debated whether olives, a must at fashionable parties, were better served with a fork or spoon;  Tiffany’s responded by fashioning an elegant compromise, opposing the fork and spoon on either end of a silver rod.  Asparagus tongs, spaghetti twirlers, clawed ice tongs… all flourished with possibility.  In a recent 2004 innovation, Chicago chef Homaro Cantu made corkscrew utensils, designed to hold fresh herbs to stimulate diners’ olfactory glands while they ate.  Test your knowledge of cutlery with the Museum’s online quiz.

Are you hungry yet?!     


4 replies
  1. Shawn Parker
    Shawn Parker says:

    Eating utensils are a great theme, historically and in terms of culture and design. Here in Rhode Island there are two big spoons that come to mind, both manufactured by Gorham Silver, the biggest silverware manufacturer of the 20th century, here in Providence.

    One is the giant silver spoon that the RISD museum recently aquired from Textron, the RI conglomerate that bought Gorham. See it on their website – – each spoonful is a gallon! Gorham made it as a display model, but it’s the real thing, not a cheap mock-up.

    The other big Rhode Island spoon is the spoon presented by Revolutionary General Rochambeau to one of his Rhode Island hosts of one of his silver camp spoons, engraved with his crest and a dedication. It’s in the Newport Historical Society collection, but you can still find them on eBay (there is one there today for $9.99). Unfortunately, there are also a lot of posts on antiquing bulletin boards from people who think they have a presentation spoon from Rochambeau himself.

    Apparently Rochambeau himself is prone to replication, since his memorial statue erected in 1902 in Lafayette Square near the White House, a copy of the Rochambeau statue in Vendome, France, seems to be the same as the statue of Rochambeau in King’s Park in Newport, RI. In each of these statues, Rochambeau reaches out as if to point and say “Hand me that spoon!”


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *