National Museum of African American History and Culture Acquires Iconic Ebony Test Kitchen
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has acquired the Ebony Test Kitchen. Built in 1972 as a prominent feature of the Johnson Publishing Co. building in Chicago, the Ebony Test Kitchen is where recipes were tested and prepared before they were published in Ebony magazine for home cooks around the country.
The 26-by-13-foot iconic kitchen consists of two separate but connected spaces, including a sitting area, all-electric appliances, wine rack and display and storage cabinets. The visual aesthetic of the test kitchen has been described as “Afrocentric modernism,” “psychedelic” and “bold.” The kitchen includes swirled orange, purple and avocado green wallpaper, brightly colored cabinets and what in the 1970s were considered the height of modern amenities and appliances such as stovetop grills, a trash compactor and a refrigerator with an ice and water dispenser. The space was designed by Palm Springs-based interior designers William Raiser and Arthur Elrod of Arthur Elrod Associates.
“The Ebony Test Kitchen is a living, breathing testament to the power of Black excellence and innovation in the culinary world,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “The kitchen was a place where recipes were reimagined, flavors were explored and stories were shared—a place that celebrates Black history and culture in a way that was not only inspiring but delicious.”
While there are no immediate plans to display the test kitchen inside the museum, NMAAHC seeks to feature the iconic kitchen as part of an initiative highlighting foodways’ integral role in African American culture during the modern era through digitization. In the meantime, this piece of history will undergo conservation work and new plans developed for its reconstruction. While conservation is taking place, visitors can explore more about the Ebony Test Kitchen on the award-winning Searchable Museum site: https://searchablemuseum.com/the-ebony-test-kitchen.
Landmarks Illinois initially saved the test kitchen and assembled a team of volunteers who physically removed it, piece by piece, from the Johnson Publishing Co. building, preventing it from being demolished and lost forever. The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) restored the Ebony Test Kitchen and updated its components for the “African/American: Making the Nation’s Table” exhibition last year. Many of these materials are also part of a donation to the museum.
About the Ebony Test Kitchen
Formerly located on the tenth floor of the Johnson Publishing Co. building, the kitchen was considered one of the most modern of its kind at the time of construction. In 2010, the Johnson Family sold the building to Columbia College. Plans to renovate the building into a new library space and student center never materialized, and the building remained vacant for almost 10 years. In 2017, Columbia College sold the building to a developer who intended to rehabilitate and convert the building for residential use. Grassroots efforts to save the building from demolition led to it being designated as a Chicago landmark in 2017.
While the building itself was saved from demolition, the landmark designation did not protect its interiors. Landmarks Illinois, a statewide historic preservation nonprofit, was part of local advocacy efforts to obtain landmark designation for the building and later stepped in to save the test kitchen after being notified of its demolition threat by Chicago architecture critic Lee Bey.
The acquisition, made possible through a donation from Landmarks Illinois and The Museum of Food and Drink, comes almost a year after the Ford, Mellon and MacArthur Foundations announced the transfer of ownership of the historic Ebony and Jet photo archive to Getty and NMAAHC. With the inclusion of the Ebony Test Kitchen, NMAAHC will be able to share a more comprehensive history of the Johnson Publishing Co., its publications and its broader role in telling the stories of African American life in the 20th century.
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 9 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu, follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.
About the Museum of Food and Drink
Food is culture. As the most universal aspect of human existence, it is a powerful lens for understanding ourselves, each other, and the world around us. The Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) is a new kind of museum that uses this power to create cultural change towards a more thoughtful, equitable and delicious future. Our goal is to be the world’s premier food museum and a global educational resource that inspires generations of curious eaters of all ages and backgrounds. For more information, visit mofad.org and follow @mofad on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
About Landmarks Illinois
“We are People Saving Places for People.” Landmarks Illinois is a membership-based, historic preservation nonprofit organization serving the people of Illinois. The organization inspires and empowers stakeholders to save places that matter to them by providing free guidance, practical and financial resources and access to strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.Landmarks.org.
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