National Museum of American History: Julia Child's Copper Pots Come Home

  • The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., recently acquired and installed the wall of copper pots and utensils that were made famous by Julia Child. Here, Child poses in her kitchen in 1970.
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    The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., recently acquired and installed the wall of copper pots and utensils that were made famous by Julia Child. Here, Child poses in her kitchen in 1970.
    Arnold Newman/Getty Images
  • Museum curators place the French copper pots inside outlines originally drawn by Child's husband, Paul Child.
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    Museum curators place the French copper pots inside outlines originally drawn by Child's husband, Paul Child.
    Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • The 30 pots spread across a wall of Child's 14-by-20-foot kitchen in its original location, Cambridge, Mass.
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    The 30 pots spread across a wall of Child's 14-by-20-foot kitchen in its original location, Cambridge, Mass.
    Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Before donating her kitchen to the museum, Child lent her wall of pots to a cultural institution in California, where they were exhibited until 2008. The American History Museum noted their absence with a transparent wall marked by the outlines of where the pots would have been.
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    Before donating her kitchen to the museum, Child lent her wall of pots to a cultural institution in California, where they were exhibited until 2008. The American History Museum noted their absence with a transparent wall marked by the outlines of where the pots would have been.
    Richard Strauss/Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Overall, the museum exhibit contains about 1,200 items from Child's kitchen, including her Garland six-burner gas stove – seen here in the kitchen's original location in Cambridge.
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    Overall, the museum exhibit contains about 1,200 items from Child's kitchen, including her Garland six-burner gas stove – seen here in the kitchen's original location in Cambridge.
    Hugh Talman/Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • On one wall, visitors can see highlights of Child's life and a 90-minute video, "Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom."
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    On one wall, visitors can see highlights of Child's life and a 90-minute video, "Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom."
    Richard Strauss/Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Julia Child's pots and pans
Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Bring out the brass band: Julia Child's copper pots are home.

Just before Child turned 90 and moved to California, she gave the Cambridge, Mass., kitchen where she filmed three of her TV shows to the Smithsonian Institution. Curators at the National Museum of American History reassembled it exactly as it was — except for one major part.

Early Wednesday morning, about a dozen curators and other museum staff gently hung the pots and pans on the blue painted pegboard that Paul Child made for his wife.

Paul also designed the look and layout of the kitchen when he and Julia moved into their home in 1961. In 2002, just a few weeks before she gave the nation that kitchen, Julia promised the wall of copper pots to an exhibit in California. When that exhibit closed, the pots and pans headed across the country to rejoin the rest of the kitchen — about 1,200 objects — in Washington, D.C.

The museum's exhibit is called "Bon Appetit" and includes Child's beloved Garland restaurant range, cabinets in cool greens and blues, a dime-store dish drainer and her black KitchenAid refrigerator complete with magnets. They even brought her junk drawer.

In its new location, the 14-by-20-foot kitchen appears exactly as it was the day museum staff took it apart in Cambridge — down to the jar of Skippy peanut butter on the countertop.

The pot wall, what Child called her gleaming "battery de cuisine," was the missing piece.

Paul had drawn a black outline for each object on the pegboard so it could be returned to its proper place. The museum workers, wearing white gloves, carefully followed a diagram so no pot was hung wrong and nothing got dinged.

In addition to the copper pots, there's a cast-iron muffin pan, a giant tea ball, tin fish molds, a pineapple corer and several black steel crepe pans.

And it's not all kitchenware. Illustrating her well-known sense of whimsy, there's a tin butterfly, a heart-shaped trivet and a branding iron with the initials J.C.

Probably not coincidentally, the pot-hanging occurred the same week as the opening of the movie Julie and Julia, starring Meryl Streep as Child. Writer and director Nora Ephron donated a few objects from the film to the museum. They will be housed in the museum's collection of music, sports and entertainment history — along with Dorothy's ruby slippers and the Fonz's leather jacket.

There is a scene in the movie where Streep is racing through Dehillerin, the famous Paris cookware store where Child did get a lot of her copper pots. She flings them into a basket, probably not the way the real Child would have treated fine copper pots.

But Child wasn't a snob — she thought pots and pans were for cooking, not for looking at. Near her stove, on more pegboard, are one or two copper pots and a lot of WearEver aluminum cookware from the hardware store. She loved them, too.

"Bon Appetit" was set up as a temporary exhibit, but it has been so popular that the museum has extended it indefinitely. Now visitors will be able to study the kitchen with no missing pieces. No doubt Child would want you to go home afterward and cook something.

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