Siting Julia: Julia Child Centenary Exhibition
SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 TO MARCH 22, 2013
On display in the first floor exhibit area and on the second floor of the Schlesinger Library during regular library hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This exhibition from the Schlesinger Library’s Julia Child Papers traces her path through various sites: post–World War II Paris, where she learned to cook and to teach cooking and began the decade-long writing collaboration that produced Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she became an icon of its cultural scene and launched her career in television; and national television, where she entered into millions of households and made the cooking show a media phenomenon.
In this exhibition, we travel with her and her husband Paul Child to Ceylon, southern France, Germany, Norway, and the Maine coast. We follow the tortuous but ultimately triumphant progress of the Mastering manuscript, tread in her diligent steps through experiments in food science, and glimpse her library of culinary book treasures.
Our exhibit situates Julia in locations that had an organic relationship to her work and accomplishments through the documents, images, and objects found in her collection. Julia Child exemplifies the individual who needed to break free of her place of origin in order to find herself. The new sites to which she moved determined the direction of her life. Her achievements—learning to organize information, do systematic research, and direct teams of people in the OSS; finding Paul, the love of her life and indispensable partner in her endeavors; discovering her passion for French food and mastering its preparation; producing a brilliant and influential cookbook; and rising to national television stardom—were all products of her movement through sites such as Ceylon, Paris, and Cambridge, where she found the context, the inspiration, and the tools to become the Julia Child we honor in this year of her centenary. The Schlesinger’s collection is rich and deep in documentation of the extraordinary life of a groundbreaking woman, as well as that of her husband Paul, whose prolific correspondence and thousands of photographs draw us into their worlds with intense immediacy.
The exhibit also includes Julia’s awards and medals, as well as materials from the complementary papers of Simone Beck, Elizabeth David, Avis DeVoto, and Ruth Lockwood. The multimedia kiosk brings Julia to life with clips and slide shows from the libray’s audiovisual holdings, featuring interviews, a tribute in song, and Julia’s 1981 talk about her relationship with the culinary collection at the Schlesinger Library.
Julia and Paul Child moved to Paris in November 1948, when Paul was assigned to the US Information Service office there. Their French lives are documented in Julia’s correspondence as well as Paul’s nearly daily letters to his twin brother Charles (often addressed to “Charlie” or “Chski” and signed “Pski”)—which were sometimes illustrated with his own sketches—and in thousands of photographs Paul took. Julia learned French fluently, joined a women’s eating club called the Cercle des Gourmettes, studied French cooking at the École Cordon Bleu, and met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, two French women who had written a small cookbook of French cuisine for Americans. Banding together, they opened their own cooking school, the École des Trois Gourmandes, and began work on a new manuscript that finally saw light in 1961 as Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia’s papers trace the ups and downs of her culinary studies (she failed the Cordon Bleu exam in 1951 but was awarded their medal in 1980), the evolution of her relationship with her collaborators, her systematic approach to learning, teaching, and writing, and her enthusiastic embrace of all things French and of cooking.
In 1961, after Paul retired and just as the first volume of Mastering was about to be published, the Childs settled in Cambridge. They continued to travel frequently, but the house at 103 Irving Street served as Julia’s home base until she relocated to California in 2001. When in Cambridge, Julia (and Paul) kept up a hectic schedule of television rehearsals, recipe writing, and socializing. Paul tells Charlie in a letter of 1963, “We like our nice old house, and having now fixed it up to feel like us, and to look like us, we rather want to sit here and enjoy it—and enjoy our friends & our garden and the pattern of life that’s emerging gradually in spite of the frenetic impositions of Television, column-writing and lectures." But the Childs seemed to enjoy the breakneck pace, as Julia describes in a letter to Simone Beck, “I’m 3 recipes behind, and 2 scripts behind, and have so much work on my desk I’m going C*R*A*Z*Y. Eh beine [sic]. How awful, I often say, if one had nothing at all to do!”
Julia quickly became a part of the fabric of Cambridge life: early French Chef episodes were filmed in Cambridge, furnishings for the sets were provided by Design Research, and Julia bought supplies for the show at Savenor’s. While The French Chef brought Julia national celebrity, she remains particularly well-loved in Cambridge. Many Cantabrigians have a favorite story about approaching Julia while shopping at Savenor’s or calling her at home (she kept her number listed in the Cambridge phone book) and being delighted with her warmth and graciousness in answering their cooking questions.
Julia Child traveled widely throughout her life and lived in many different places. During World War II, she served for nearly two years in Ceylon and China while working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). It was in Ceylon at the OSS headquarters that she met Paul Child, an artist and OSS officer. After the war ended, Julia and Paul were married on September 3, 1946, in Lumberville, Pennsylvania.
Paul’s diplomatic career took them to Bonn, Germany, in 1954. While living in the suburbs on the west bank of the Rhine, Julia took German classes and became a fluent speaker. She and Paul explored the local markets, restaurants, and sights. In 1959, Paul was sent to Oslo, Norway, where Julia studied Norwegian, learned to ski, and took classes in Norwegian cooking from cookbook author and teacher Lolly Raestad. Beginning in 1965–1966, Julia and Paul spent several months each winter at La Pitchoune, their small country house in Provence.
Julia’s other sites reveal the breadth of her travels and reflect the variety and extent of the materials that she left to the Schlesinger Library.
Julia Child has become closely identified with public television in the national mind. Her TV show The French Chef was produced by WGBH, Boston, in black and white beginning in 1963 and in color in 1970 and 1972. The magic of live television and Julia’s naturally vibrant and enthusiastic demeanor in front of the camera made The French Chef one of the most popular cooking shows of all time. Although not the first televised cooking show host, Julia Child was the first on-air cook to bring the cooking experience from the kitchen to the dining room, inviting the viewer to share the experience of a pleasurable meal.
Included in this exhibit are the initial proposal to WGBH, Paul Child’s list of proposed show titles and his diagram for the placement of show ingredients, the “typical show day” schedule, and Paul’s photographs of the set and the taping of the show.
Julia’s philosophy of “making cooking make sense” was carried out in three additional WGBH television series: Julia Child & Company (1978), Julia Child & More Company (1980), and Dinner with Julia (1982). She later appeared with Jacques Pépin on Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home, among other programs.
In a letter to Avis DeVoto in November of 1954, Julia Child stated, “We [she and Simone Beck] are schooling ourselves in the scientific method.” Julia and coauthor Simone Beck spent years observing, measuring, and experimenting in order to perfect their recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Their underlying question: How do we instruct Americans in preparing classic French food using American tools and ingredients? Julia spent years researching the differences between American and French flours, measurements, and techniques and investigated alterations that could be made to the American oven in order to produce an authentic loaf of French bread. She experimented with American kitchen equipment—such as the pressure cooker, blender, food processor, freezer, etc.—to determine their suitability in preparing classic French recipes.
In response to viewer criticism of her preparation of live lobster on The French Chef, she contacted biologists at several universities and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to discover the most humane method of killing lobster for food preparation. In later years, she researched nutrition, food additives, eating disorders, the effects of irradiation on food, and the bioengineering of food, among other subjects.
Mastering was published in 1961 as a single-volume work (volume two was issued in 1970, under Julia Child’s and Simone Beck’s names). Simone Beck proposed and drafted many of the recipes, drawing on her profound knowledge of the repertoire of classic French cuisine. Julia insisted upon methodical, clear instructions and rigorous testing of each step. Drafts of individual recipes were sent to many “guinea pigs” for testing and back and forth among the authors and editors. Julia’s numerous questions to her editor reveal the focus on every detail that characterized her approach.
Avis DeVoto (1904–1989) was instrumental in bringing Mastering to publication. She also attracted Julia and Paul Child to Cambridge after their years overseas and guided Julia’s papers to the Schlesinger Library. When Julia was living in France, the two women became pen pals, inaugurating what became a lifelong devoted friendship. DeVoto acted as agent for the manuscript, using her connections at Houghton Mifflin to help secure a contract. But in spite of editor Dorothy De Santillana’s enthusiasm, Houghton Mifflin executives rejected the enormous final manuscript. Undeterred, DeVoto steered the manuscript to Knopf, where editor Judith Jones, an experienced cook who had herself lived in France, saw it through to publication.
Because Julia Child is familiar to a wide public as “Julia,” the exhibit text refers to her by her first name.
Photographs in the exhibit are by Paul Child unless otherwise indicated.
The Siting Julia exhibit is on display in the first floor exhibit area and on the second floor of the Schlesinger Library during regular library hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.