Almost four years after its permanent displays were ignominiously sold to the highest bidders at a bankruptcy auction, Copia has a new artistic centerpiece — a museum telling the history of kitchen tools and equipment.

A museum honoring Charles E. “Chuck” Williams — the founder of the Williams-Sonoma company that sells kitchenware and home furnishings — will be installed on the second floor of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia, located at 500 First St. in downtown Napa.

Among the nearly 4,000 artifacts in the Williams collection are bread baking and culinary tools, specialty cookware, tableware, large and small appliances, and cookbooks. Additional items will be curated for temporary exhibits.

Williams passed away on Dec. 5 after his 100th birthday earlier in the year. Made possible by a gift from the Williams estate, the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum at the CIA at Copia will become “a new attraction in the city of Napa for culinarians worldwide,” said a CIA news release.

The CIA bought the north part of the Copia property in October, announcing plans to offer a broad array of food experiences and instruction. The Williams museum is expected to open in spring 2017. It will occupy a 7,000- square-foot space that was formerly a temporary art gallery.

“We are delighted that this unique and wide-ranging collection will be on permanent display to the community at the CIA at Copia,” said CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan.

“We are pleased to learn that this personal gift from our founder will establish a museum dedicated to his life’s work,” said Janet Hayes, president of Williams-Sonoma.

“Students, culinary historians, researchers, and the general public will be able to use the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum to advance their knowledge of the history of kitchen tools and equipment and their appreciation for food and cooking,” explained Wade Bentson, director of the Williams estate and museum curator.

The museum will be designed as “a very exciting visual display of culinary articles that will not only amuse and entertain but will show many different ways food was prepared throughout the centuries,” said Bentson.

The story behind the collection began in 1952, when Williams took a three-month trip to Europe and Scandinavia with friends and saw what international cooks were using in their home kitchens.

In 1956, Williams opened his first cookware store in Sonoma, which moved to San Francisco in 1958 at the urging of friends. Many of those items would become American kitchen classics, such as enameled cast-iron pots, Mauviel Copper Cookware, Apilco and Pillivuyt porcelains, tart tins, kugelhopfs, crêpe pans, the Cuisinart food processor and balsamic vinegar.

Williams returned to Europe numerous times, scouring shops, restaurants, and factories for high-quality cookware and specialty foods he could introduce to cooks in the United States. “When the crates arrived it was like Christmas,” recalled Bentson, who was Williams’ first employee.

Displays of the artifacts that belonged to Williams will include “all kinds of wonderful things,” said Bentson.

The collection represents a rich heritage of the culinary arts from around the world and includes treasures from the 18th and 19th centuries—a batterie de cuisine of copper cookware from 1890s France; ceramic and metal pudding, chocolate, and ice cream molds; and European and early American baking and pastry equipment from the early 1900s.

Bentson has a few favorites, including “some really beautiful duck presses that are quite amazing visually, as well as some beautiful 18th century 19th century” baking tureens, he said.

He also mentioned “dozens and dozens” of chocolate molds in shapes such as rabbits, Santa, turkeys and many others. “There’s one large one in the shape of a teddy bear, which is quite fantastic,” plus a series of “incredible” molds for ice cream.

The displays will be on par with those featured in Smithsonian museums, Bentson said.

In recognition of his contribution to the culinary arts, Williams was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame in 2002. Through the years, he has helped launch the careers of many young culinarians through CIA scholarships. He also created the Williams Center for Flavor Discovery at the college’s Greystone campus in St. Helena.

Copia opened in 2001 with philanthropic contributions to the project totaling about $50 million. In addition to the contributions of the Robert Mondavi family and others, Copia borrowed about $78 million, financed by bonds. A lack of visitors hampered growth plans, and by 2008, Copia abruptly closed. Later, it filed for bankruptcy.

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

Load comments