From November 20, 2016, through March 5, 2017, our colleagues at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) are presenting an exhibition called Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate. The exhibit will trace the impact of these beverages in Europe, beginning in the late 16th century. One set from The Henry Ford’s collections—this late 18th century tea service—will be on loan to the DIA, helping visitors understand what a formal tea setting would have looked like.
As we learned more about the exhibition, we saw additional parallels between the DIA’s goals and our own collections’ artifacts and themes, and ways our collections can extend the messages of the exhibit. The DIA will help explain how these new tastes spawned a design revolution and entirely new industries devoted to creating specialized tableware; our Made in America exhibit in Henry Ford Museum covers how British innovations in power and production machinery made way for the increasingly precise manufacture of porcelain and other mass-produced goods to support these needs, beginning the Industrial Revolution. Bitter|Sweet will focus on Europe, but The Henry Ford’s collections explore how the craze for these new beverages spread to America—including the tale of early American artisan and entrepreneur Paul Revere.
The exhibit will be interactive, allowing guests to explore via all five of their senses, which is similar in approach to Greenfield Village—for instance, being able to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of historic chocolate-making in our Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village program. And last, coffee, tea, and chocolate all remain popular today, allowing us to bring the past forward and show how these historic drinks fit into life in modern America.
Over the course of the exhibit, we’ll be adding links to this post that explore some of these themes in our collections. We hope these will provide a deeper understanding of the impact these three once-exotic drinks have had, from the earliest days of our country’s history right on through to the takeout coffee in your hand.
In 1932 and 1933, Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived in Detroit, while Rivera was painting the Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The frescoes, commissioned by the city Arts Commission led by Edsel Ford, celebrate Detroit’s industrial manufacturing power. They lie at the heart of the DIA, and also at the heart of Detroit.
From March 15 to July 12, 2015, the DIA will display nearly 70 works of art in an exhibit called Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit. The Henry Ford is pleased to be collaborating with the DIA and other Detroit-area community organizations to provide additional context for the exhibit. Over upcoming months, we will be digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the frescos themselves. Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.
We've created a special page on the blog to house the items from our collections that relate to the exhibit, It will grow and expand over the period of the exhibit, providing pointers to these collections, so visitors to the exhibit, as well as those who may not have a chance to attend, can dig deeper.
If you’d like to dig in and start exploring right away, we’d suggest a visit to our collections website, where we’ve started to digitize our collections related to Diego Rivera, including the photograph below of the Detroit Industry frescos in progress.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
As Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford, one thing that I find particularly fascinating is how our collections intersect with those of other cultural institutions. Sometimes these connections pop up unexpectedly.
Recently, I was searching in our collections database for items related to Mexican artist Diego Rivera. This 1930s image of Ford Motor Company employees collecting their wages from a payroll truck, pictured above, was one of the items I got back in my search.