Dry It—You’ll Like It!
Ingenuity that extends way past business-as-usual
One of the charming and more interesting aspects of Lipman Hearne is the in situ display of key items from the Dehydrated Food Museum (www.dryfood.org). At her work station, Production Designer Ruta Daugavietis—the founder of the Museum and curator of its exhibitions—maintains a modest collection, including stellar examples of Apiaceae, Cucurbitaceae, and Brassicacaceae.
To help new visitors understand more about the Museum, curator Daugavietis agreed to participate in a brief Q&A.
What was it about dehydrated foods that you found fascinating enough to start a museum collection? The collection started by chance. Several food items that dried accidentally were discovered at around the same time. They got placed on a shelf together. Someone referred to the collection as a museum and I made labels for the items. At the core of the collection were the petrified banana logs, which resemble dinosaur bones. I was curious as to why these bananas dried into light (in both color and weight) logs rather than turning dark as many dried bananas do.
What are your curatorial guidelines, and have individuals with questionable intent ever tried to circumvent them? In order for a specimen to be added into the museum’s collection, it must be food and it must have dehydrated accidentally. The submitted item must not have been stolen—the donor must be its rightful owner. In order to verify the object’s provenance, its donor must be someone known by museum staff. The submitted item must not emit a musty odor. The item must not be covered with mold and/or mildew.
Once a person tried to submit a forged dried apple core (he carved an apple as if it had been eaten and then allowed it to dry out), and another time someone took the mukwahs, (the seeds and nuts offered at the end of a meal at an Indian restaurant), and tried to donate them. The thorough scrutiny that all submissions undergo was able to reveal the fraudulent nature of these items.
Many submissions made in good faith by well-intentioned people have also been turned down through the years. I can’t tell you how many slightly-hardened oranges, lightly-shriveled apples, and moldy peaches we’ve had to reject. More recently, a higher percentage of donations have been accepted, largely due to a public who’s more educated about what constitutes a museum-worthy accidentally-dried food specimen.
What is the most surprising item in the collection, and why? Perhaps the elegant evaporated celery! It’s amazing to me how dried out and intact the specimen is. I’d only seen celery go limp in the fridge. Nothing like this. It’s also fascinating that something this large could have gone undetected. A vegetable drawer is filled with good intentions.
How are items stored when they are not on display? Only a small percentage of the museum’s holdings are on private exhibit. Due to space and budgetary constraints, the majority of the specimens are stored in cardboard cartons with desiccant packets. Pretty low tech.
If this collection were to be showcased on Antiques Road Show, what would be the putative value for insurance purposes (including, in this case, a disaster associated with an accidental triggering of the sprinkler system)? I really have no idea of the monetary value of the collection. I do know that if the specimens were composted, they would yield at the very least a handful of really fertile soil. And that’s an essential, underappreciated resource that’s worth a lot!