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Rethinking The Grange Kitchens

February 24th, 2011

The historic kitchens in The Grange were a dynamic part of the Iris Haussler installation “He Named Her Amber“. Here visitors experienced the mysterious world of a fictitious maid who hid waxen globules under floor bricks and in the walls. Once the installation was over, I needed to re-imagine another world, one that still involved The Grange servants, but in a different way.

Grange kitchen

With the house no longer restored as an historic house museum, I also had to find a way to make the period kitchens relevant to our visitor. Three themes became immediately apparent—the lives of the servants; the work that they did; and, how kitchen technology changes over time. With these themes in mind, I began to imagine how to illustrate them with the artifacts that I had.

One of the important bits of work was obviously cooking and I had lots of artifacts to illustrate that. I was able to set up several other work related “stations” including cleaning, the work involved in lighting a house and laundry. Obviously there was more work done than just these, but I had the artifacts to demonstrate these activities. The previous historic kitchen did not effectively show the presence of servants in the basement, so I turned one room into a servant’s hall, setting a table as if for a meal and putting in a day bed for them to sit on.

Changing technology was also straight forward as we could contrast the open hearth cooking of the early part of the 19th century to the cook stove technology of the mid-century. The servant’s bells and the rising cupboard are other examples. Changing technology, in our case, refers to the first half of the 19th century due to our collection. In the future, it might be possible to show further changes through archival material.

Grange dining room

Two things have not changed, however, just as The Grange cooks used seasonal and local ingredients, so to does Anne Yaramovitch and her team of chefs in the AGO kitchens. And, just as The Grange was a social centre of the city (parties held here were written up in the newspapers) so to is it a place for members to gather for food and conversation.

Jennifer Rieger, Historic Site Coordinator of The Grange, Art Gallery of Ontario