'“Survival on a Spoon' CelebratesThe Secret History of Black Culinary Entrepreneurs in RI

On display until March 2012, the Culinary Arts Museum's latest exhibit, “Creative Survival: African American Foodways in Rhode Island,” investigates how African American food has influenced and defined cultural heritage in our state.

Thomas Moke, fruit and peanut vendor, ca. 1882Curated by local historians Ray Rickman and Robb Dimmick, the exhibit traces the secret history of entrepreneurial African Americans who openly defied prejudice by owning their own food-related businesses — some while still slaves.

Notable pioneers include George Downing, who owned RI’s first (and largest) oyster house; Mary and Albro Lyons, owners of Lyons’ Ice Cream Depot in Providence and outspoken advocates for racially integrated schooling; and Jefferson Evans, the first black graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in 1947.

The exhibit is a testament to their perseverance, which Robb sums up as “struggle, celebration and survival on a spoon,” adding, “They made ‘a way out of no way’ to sustain their lives, build community and feed their souls.”

The Culinary Arts Museum’s collections contains over 250,000 items, of which more than 60,000 are cookbooks. Recent acquisitions include a stunning collection of international travel memorabilia dating from the 1870s to the 1980s.