The Renton History Museum of Renton, Washington, put a lot of hard work into their local exhibit, Sustaining a City. Built to accompany the Smithsonian’s Key Ingredients exhibit, Sustaining a City focused on the regional food customs that developed alongside immigration to the area. Museum Director, Elizabeth Stewart, explains; “Sustaining a City explored the ways in which Renton’s wave of immigrants shared food traditions, beginning with the Duwamish people through pioneer picnics, immigrant bakeries, wine-making, and groceries.”
Renton’s exhibit is beautiful – it includes thorough research, authentic objects, and panels as tall as those from the Smithsonian exhibit. One meaningful aspect of the exhibit was the collaboration that it engendered between the Renton History Museum and the University of Washington. Lacking a staff solely dedicated to exhibition development, the museum turned to UW’s Museology department for assistance with the expansion of their local display. More than a year prior to Key Ingredients’ arrival in Renton, Museology students helped to develop Sustaining a City, performing tasks ranging from research and script-writing, to the exhibit’s physical assemblage. Elizabeth Stewart provides us with details about the partnership:
“Our Collection Manager, Sarah Iles, is a UW Museology graduate and she has maintained a close relationship with the department; in fact, she teaches for the program usually once a year…We had three interns in succession on the Sustaining A City; each position was 'advertised' internally by the UW Museology program... The first, Jen Myers, provided preliminary research on Renton foodways by combing through our collection and identifying appropriate objects, photos, and sources. Staff started identifying appropriate themes and the objects, etc. that would support them. Our second intern, Kim Owens, built on that work by drafting the exhibit script in consultation with staff. For Jen and Kim, these internship satisfied degree requirements. Finally, Benny Eisman, who often works here as a preparator, helped with construction, installation, and mount-making for the exhibit.”
What a wonderful partnership between two educational institutions -- and a partnership that was mutually beneficial; students of museum studies were able to gain hands-on experience, while the Renton History Museum was able to fabricate a significant exhibit. One visitor remarked; "It was a great pleasure to view the exhibits. You clearly care deeply about our heritage. Thank you!" We are not only proud of the high-level of work produced in Renton, but are warmed by the cooperation and community spirit that went into its creation.
Equally impressive were the Renton History Museum's efforts to generate press for the two exhibits. In the months leading up to the opening, Elizabeth Stewart stirred up enthusiasm for Key Ingredients by writing articles in the Renton Magazine which highlighted the history of dining in Renton. A favorite entry of ours features the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest that existed one-hundred years ago -- did you know that loggers may have required up to 7,000 calories per day to "keep going?" Opening day programming included another great press opportunity -- a live broadcast of 97.3 FM KIRO's radio show, "In the Kitchen with Tom and Thierry" occurred beside the exhibit itself!
All-in-all, the elbow grease that was put into the Key Ingredients exhibit in Renton is certainly worth commending.
“We thoroughly enjoyed hosting Key Ingredients--SITES and MoMS do such a fantastic job of making these exhibits doable for small museums, and the Smithsonian imprimatur means a lot to our visitors!” – Elizabeth Stewart, Director, Renton History Museum.
Our thanks go out to the community of Renton, the Renton History Museum, and Elizabeth Stewart for their fervent approach to the MoMS experience!
- Roxanne Berschler, SITES -- Washington, D.C.