Providence, RI – “Creative Survival: African American Foodways in Rhode Island,” a groundbreaking exhibit, will open with a lecture, and food tasting on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 5:30pm at Johnson and Wales’ Culinary Arts Museum, 315 Harborside Blvd., Providence, RI. The event, funded by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities (RICH), is free and open to the public. Nationally-known New York restaurateur and cookbook author, Norma Jean Darden, who co-wrote Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, will give a keynote talk about food as memory and memoir.
The exhibit explores the never-before-told story of African American cooking in Rhode Island from South County plantations to East Side of Providence farms, from church suppers to soul food restaurants. It showcases the ingenuity of Black food in slavery, survival and celebration. Starting in the early 18th century, the exhibit delves into the complicated relationship of food to slavery, South County plantations’ reliance on slave labor, which produced the nation’s most coveted cheese, and how one South County slave, Phillis, perfected Rhode Island’s most iconic food, the jonnycake. Newport’s Charity “Duchess” Quamino, a slave, was the state’s most esteemed pastry chef, serving delicacies to George Washington. The first restaurant ever opened in Providence was owned by freed slave, Emmanuel Manna Bernoon in 1736. Both Quamino and Bernoon hold esteemed positions in the annals of America’s Black entrepreneurialism. The exhibit’s 19th century highlights include Providence Black vendors hawking food to wealthy East Siders; the eating habits of Snowtown residents shown through archeological artifacts from this historically Black neighborhood; the rituals that food played in churches and fraternal organizations; George T. Downing, Newport’s and the nation’s most successful oyster purveyor; and Black inventors William Purdy & Leonard Peters, whose recently discovered Frederick Douglass sterling silver souvenir spoon will be seen for the first time. Also included is a rich history of 20th century Black restaurants in Providence & Newport. “These untold stories of ambition fraught with economic challenges and culinary triumphs,” says Robb Dimmick, exhibit curator, “will enrich viewers and reveal how extraordinary creativity became the substance, survival and success of the Rhode Island Black community and influenced the nation.”
The exhibit remains open to the public through March 4, 2012 at Johnson and Wales’ renowned Culinary Arts Museum, Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. (401) 598-2805
Ray Rickman, Project Director