Smithsonian exhibit draws large crowds

By Helena Rodriguez, PNT Staff Writer

More than 1,100 people have been exposed to the “Key Ingredients: America By Food” Smithsonian exhibit at Eastern New Mexico University, a carefully orchestrated event which has drawn the community into its numerous activities.

This is the estimate that Merlene Olmsted has come up with as the six-week-long tribute to American culinary culture draws to a close. Final events include an Iron Chef competition tonight, an Eat Smart Cooking School which is also tonight from 5:10 to 6:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, and the statewide New Mexico Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Annual Meeting this weekend at ENMU.

The exhibit may be viewed up until Monday at ENMU’s Golden Library. It will be dismantled on Tuesday. Olmsted said Portales was the last stop of six stops in New Mexico on its nationwide tour.

“This is an impressive number, 1,100 people,” said Olmsted, who spent more than a year-and-a-half helping to plan the event.

According to Olmsted, the Smithsonian Institute works with state humanities councils for its traveling exhibits and contacted the New Mexico Humanities Council which was the first step in the exhibit coming to Eastern. “The idea is to take the exhibit to rural communities which normally do not have this caliber of information or exhibits,” Olmsted said.

The New Mexico Humanities Council contacted Thurman Elder, the former dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ENMU, who put them in touch with Olmsted, a professor of Family and Consumer Sciences at ENMU.

The exhibit, which began in early March, also featured a display of vintage local aprons at Golden Library as well as many hands-on or educational activities.

Olmsted said a wide range of groups from New Mexico and Texas toured the exhibit, from school groups to nursing homes. She said that even when a group of elderly people visited and soon became tired from walking, they spent two hours sharing food memories, from memories about their favorite dishes to the worst they’ve tasted.

She said community response and help was phenomenal, saying, “I think that when people saw, from the opening day, how successful it was going to be, they were willing to share and be a part of it.”

Olmsted said organizers worked hard to include a variety of local programming that would appeal to a variety of people, and not just women, but men as well. Whereas some communities host the exhibit at a museum, she said having it at a university helped them to tap into a lot of resources. She hopes the success of this exhibit will open the door to more opportunities.

“I hope this exhibit puts ENMU on the map,” she said. “I think it will help to give my department more awareness as well as others because it has been multidisciplinary. I know the history and humanities departments required their students to come to some of the events.”

Olmsted said this is the first time Portales has hosted the annual NMAFCS meeting which will bring more than 89 people from around New Mexico and West Texas this weekend. This was due largely to the Smithsonian exhibit, she said.