Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The New Art

Last weekend Serena and I went to the Edgewater Antique Mall. I was poking around the ladies' things, like I always do, when I ran across some excellent used books. I found the 1953 Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbook highlighting the year's winners (more about that later). I even thought about trying to enter. I mean, the deadline is this Saturday. I sadly discovered that I do not meet the requirements. Too bad. The Pillsbury Bake-Off seems like the kind of thing you could etch on a tombstone.

This delightful handbook The New Art (1935) is produced by the General Electric Kitchen Institute of Nela Park, Cleveland, Ohio. In it the authors introduce us to the joys of General Electric kitchen appliances. The book opens with a photo of the pastoral Nela Park GE Kitchen Institute. The following pages show happy, carefree women. In one photo a woman sits in a car stopped on what looks like a tree-lined street, while a woman on the sidewalk leans into her friend's car. They look as if they have just bumped into each other. The car door is open. Perhaps they are going somewhere. The photo that follows shows a well-dressed woman sitting on sprawling lawn as her children play next to her. The next photo is a foursome of women playing cards. It is obvious these women have been set free from the drudgery of kitchen work and are now able to spend more time with their children. But what's more surprising is that they are also depicted as child-free, spending leisure time with each other. The first part of this little booklet goes to great lengths to avoid showing actual women using the appliances. The only women we see using these new time-saving tools are disembodied hands and female scientists. The housewives, well they just drive around the neighborhood and play cards all day.

There's delightful little tidbits throughout. For example in the chapter entitled "Food Preservation and the General Electric Refrigerator," we are told how this new device solves the three major problems of food storage: "1. A low, even temperature, always below 50 degrees. 2. An atmosphere not too moist nor too dry. 3. A good circulation of of pure, chilled air." I don't know about you, but I'm shocked that 50 degrees counts as "chilled." Um, I think my bedroom closet runs somewhere around 50. 

One thing that all the appliances had in common is that they all have space beneath them. As Serena pointed out, that would go a long way to making a small kitchen feel spacious. I kind of wish we still had these today. I'd like them to work a little better, though.

The little booklet ends with these words: "The New Art of Living Electrically has not only banished drudgery and monotonous routine from America's homes, but is has brought new hours of freedom to the busy homemaker, new joy to her work, new savings to her budget, and new health and happiness to her family." Turns out they were right.

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