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Exhibit of Historic Kitchen Equipment at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

What may be the nation’s single greatest collection of historic/vintage kitchen implements and tools — the Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection — resides right here in Sonoma County.

And, as luck would have it, a significant part of the collection is currently on display, through November, at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

Chances are that something in this exhibit will bring back a tender memory or two — especially if you grew up before the 1980s. Maybe you’ll catch sight of the kind of early electric toaster your great-grandmother used right up to the day she died, or that egg beater your grandma insisted was the secret behind her prize-winning meringue, or the funny-looking masher your mom used to make her inimitable mashed potatoes.

But no matter your age or background, you’ll probably be delighted by the exhibit’s colorful assortment of mashers, toasters, egg beaters, whisks, colanders, choppers, flour sifters and scoops, spatulas, ladles, spoons, butter paddles, egg cookers, rolling pins, ricers, food mills, meat grinders, juicers, cracker tins, an historic menu collection, and more.

About 600 items are on exhibit. Some of them, like a wooden citrus squeezer from England, date back to the 1790s. The majority are from the early- and mid-20th century.

Kathleen Hill began her collection in the early 1970s, finding objects in antique stores, garage/estate sales, flea markets, and elsewhere. In the early days she set a $3 limit for an item, but over the years she’s had to raise what she’s willing to spend to $8. She estimates that the entire collection holds about 1,500-2,000 items.

“We have called it one of the largest private collections in the country,” said Hill, “but it may actually be the largest. An appraiser who lectured at the museum a couple of weeks ago called it ‘a major collection.’ He said he had never seen anything like it.”

Hill believes it would be difficult for someone to put together such a collection today. “It would be much more expensive,” she said. “People have become interested in such items, partly through my efforts. It’s a very different climate now.”

A writer and culinary historian, Hill researched and wrote the delightfully informative catalog that accompanies the exhibit. Period recipes add to the fun; for example, the section on potato mashers includes a 1927 recipe for mashed potatoes from Good Housekeeping Institute’s Book of Good Meals and How to Prepare Them.

While you’re at the museum, don’t overlook an accompanying exhibit, “Delicious Images: Art About Food.” It features the work of two superb artists, Wayne Thiebaud and Joseph Goldyne.

More information:

To learn more about Kathleen Hill, visit her website: www.kthill.com.
To learn more about the collection, visit: www.kathleenhillculinarycollection.com
The exhibit, “Kitchen Memories: The Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection,” closes on Dec. 1.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed.-Sun., Admission: $5/Adults; free to students 18 and younger. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

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