Bowls Around Town: An Exhibit of Stories, Recipes and Photos about Family Meals

During our PHNW meetings, members “talk shop” and tell each other about projects we have worked on recently. (We’ll be sharing many of those projects with you in our next blog post.)

At a recent meeting, Trena Cleland talked about an initiative celebrating “family foodways” she was involved in several years ago. Trena has an inspiring history herself, including work as an assistant to a noted author for almost a quarter century, participation in a 3,500-mile peace walk across the United States in 1981, and a wide-ranging career as a personal historian.

The exhibit on display at the Museum

Trena told us about the Bowls Around Town project, which uses food and cooking to unite people through stories. A touring exhibit, the Bowls project came to the Museum of Natural History in Eugene in 2017. (See the museum’s write-up at: https:// stories-about-family-meals

Trena answered a call for submissions she saw in the Eugene Weekly, Eugene’s alternative paper. Intrigued, she made a reservation to use the bowl and share the history and significance of a beloved recipe.

Inside the box were a ceramic bowl, a book, and a small disposable camera

As a registered participant, she picked up the Bowls Around Town materials from the museum on the designated date. In a beautifully handcrafted wooden box were contained a pale green ceramic bowl, a bound book of instructions, and a small disposable camera. The  ceramic bowl was handmade by the artist Michael Strand. (Trena has included more information about Strand’s work at the end of this article.) Inside the book were instructions on how to share a recipe and its story, through photography and text.

The assembled ingredients for Trena’s contribution: zucchini bread

Trena assembled the ingredients for her contribution, zucchini bread, the main ingredient for which grew in her vegetable garden.

Voila! Trena and the bowl containing her zucchini bread

Following the prescribed steps, Trena baked the bread, photographed herself with it in the bowl, and wrote her personal narrative of the recipe’s role in her life, which was logged into a binder that museum visitors flipped through during the exhibition. Food for thought, literally!

The submissions are collected in a binder for people to flip through
Food for thought, indeed!

Speaking of food for thought, you’ll want to stay tuned for next month’s tasty digest of projects completed or in the works from our group members. In our next blog post, you’ll be tempted by oral historian Gloria Nussbaum’s Covid Chronicles and the efforts of another PHNW member, Jeanne Quan, to preserve family recipes and stories through her services. We know you will be inspired by the breadth of history being captured by our group.

Please add us to your newsfeed as a reminder of the importance your own stories hold for our families and communities.

More about the Bowls Around Town exhibition from the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s website (2017):

 The Museum of Natural and Cultural History invites people in the community to borrow a bowl, cook a dish and then share a story about the process. It’s for a project called “Bowls Around Town: Eugene, OR,” a collaboration between the museum and ceramic artist Michael J. Strand, an art professor at North Dakota State University.

[During the project] museum visitors can borrow a bowl along with a digital camera and a journal. In their home kitchens, participants are asked to use the bowls to serve a family dish and tell the story behind the food through photographs, musings and recipes.“‘Bowls Around Town’ invites people to share their family foodways,” said museum folklorist Lyle Murphy, who helped bring the project to Eugene. “Altogether, the recipes and stories become a collective account of our local food culture.”

Michael Strand, the artist who produced this project, creates fascinating exhibits as part of The Socially Engaged Craft Collective:

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