The newly renamed Napa Valley Museum Yountville is testing a recipe for financial sustainability with the premiere of a multi-media exhibit that will both provide an intimate peek into the lives of Paul and Julia Child, as well as potentially bolster the long-term success of the museum.
The world premiere of “France is a Feast – The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child” opens this Saturday, Nov. 11 and will remain through Feb. 18, 2018 at the museum.
The content of the exhibit mirrors some of the content of the newly-released book “France Is A Feast” (Thames & Hudson) written by Alex Prud’homme, and Katie Pratt. Prud’homme is Paul Child’s great-nephew, who co-authored “My Life In France” with Julia Child. Pratt is a close friend and colleague of the Childs, who curated the exhibit. In addition to the photographs, the exhibit includes personal items, artifacts and participatory opportunities for attendees.
Pratt, a local arts professional, sparked the idea for this exhibit, said Laura Rafaty, the museum’s executive director, who met her at a museum fundraiser.
“Katie was a member, a donor in the auction and it has turned into her being a partner on this amazing exhibit,” Rafaty said.
Years ago, Pratt had started research and work on her own book. “Initially I intended to create a book on Paul’s art photography. However, once I realized how much rich, biographical material there was, hundreds of letters and journal records spanning decades, I realized that including biographical material on Paul was in order,” Pratt said.
“When Alex and I agreed to work together, we both agreed that we wanted to create a book that was a visual extension of Julia’s memoir ‘My Life in France,’ focusing on the years 1948–1954. We wanted to do a book that combined the biographical material with Paul’s photographs. It became the ideal comprehensive project on Paul Child. We both grew up knowing Paul and Julia well, so it has been a personal project for both of us.”
The exhibit magnifies the content of the book, transforming much of what can be found on the pages, to a much larger and interactive scale. Rare photographs shot by Paul Child during the time that he and his Julia lived in Paris (1948 to 1954, post Second World War) are part of the display. The exhibit focuses on the time well before Julia Child became famous, Pratt said. “She had just arrive in France as a young woman and was inspired by France and French food.”
While many images are of his wife, Paul Child was an accomplished photographer who also captured urban, natural and lifestyle images of the day. Some of the images in Yountville are on loan from a collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Rafaty said that the exhibit incorporates original material developed and owned by the museum, as well as personal objects loaned by Pratt and Prud’homme, including Paul Child’s camera, as well as notebooks, journals and letters, along with video and audio assets obtained from fans and collaborators. Other types of Paul Child’s artwork, including drawings, paintings and stained glass, are also included.
“People want to be interactive when they are in the museum,” Rafaty said. A number of original items and displays were created for the exhibit, including a kid-friendly “Measure up to Julia” display as she was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and wore size 12 shoes.
According to Rafaty, this is the first original, world-premiere exhibit developed by the Napa Valley Museum Yountville that has a companion audio tour component and that was designed specifically to tour across the United States and potentially beyond.
“It represents the museum’s efforts to significantly raise the bar on our exhibitions, making them participatory and immersive, as well as accessible to audiences of diverse ages, experiences, interests and languages,” said Rafaty who reports that the audio tour will also become available in many different languages, including Mandarin.
“The museum has a strategy to move to a revenue-based business model, as non-profits are struggling based only on donations. We are leveraging our investment in the exhibit,” Rafaty added, explaining that by licensing this exhibit to other museums in the future, revenue to support the NVMY can be generated in the form of licensing fees. In the past, the museum, which has now also added venue rentals to generate revenue, has relied solely on donations, admissions and limited grants.
“The audio tour we’ve created is absolutely sensational,” Rafaty said. “It was developed by Artcast, one of the world’s leading audio tour producers, and it features music, the voice of Julia Child herself, and interviews with Jacques Pépin, Thomas Keller, Cindy Pawlcyn, ‘Julia & Jacques’ television producer and cookbook editor Susie Heller, and Alex Prud’homme.
“We’ve been so gratified by the support these legendary chefs provided for our audio tour,” she added. “They all tell the most hilarious, heartwarming and wonderful stories of how Julia Child inspired them and their lives and careers.”
For Rafaty, who is working to elevate the museum experience, this look at the life of Paul and Julia Child is special. “It’s really exciting. It includes music from their life together, their favorite song. We have objects from their personal lives, and we are recreating aspects of their personal life. We have found some of her best recipes for happiness, including, ‘Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.’ We are inviting visitors to add their own Recipes for Happiness to the Julia Child pegboard — and we can’t wait to see what our visitors come up with!”
The doors to the exhibit open on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. An opening celebration takes place from 5-8 p.m. that evening. It’s free for museum members and $20 for non-members, and will feature Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt, who will be signing copies of their new book available for purchase. All proceeds benefit the museum, and advance tickets are available at www.napavalleymuseum.org.