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Graphic: Smithsonian American History Museum

American History Museum Highlights Regional Impact on Beers

How do brewers incorporate local flavors in their products, and how does that impact their profitability and overall image for the American consumer?

This question was discussed this past weekend at the Smithsonian’s Last Call event on November 3, which included an evening of conversation, craft beer tastings and historic artifacts. The event was part of the fourth annual Food History Weekend, held at the National Museum of American History. Each year offers a different theme, and this year’s theme was “Regions Reimagined.”

In a panel moderated by Theresa McCulla, historian of the Smithsonian’s American Brewing History Initiative, four American brewers spoke about the sourcing of their ingredients, what inspired them to dive into the beer industry and more. The panelists included Shyla Sheppard from Bow and Arrow Brewing Company in New Mexico, Jon Renthrope from Cajun Fire Brewing Company in New Orleans, Deb Carey from New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin and Marika Josephson from Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois.

Before the panel commenced, guests were able to view a myriad objects on display related to brewing history in America. There were publications from the Smithsonian Dibner Library that ranged from beer histories to instructional books, some dating as far back as the 1890s.

One was a journal from 1988 by Jeff Lebesch, New Belgium Brewing Company founder and Fat Tire creator. Also on display were vintage posters, photos and business ephemera from the 1870s through 1905, as well as Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub tap handles from the 1980s.

During the panel, each of the guest brewers spoke about their emphasis local ingredients.

“It feels great to be able to highlight some of the special aspects of the culture of the area and the native people in a really authentic way,” Shyla Sheppard said. 

“We get all of our malt from a local maltster,” Marika Josephson said. “We get our hops now all from Illinois, and we hired farmers almost three years ago to help us with our farm, and we were able to give them jobs.”

With this, Josephson added, “I think breweries have a lot of power.”

While guests of the Smithsonian’s Last Call event listened to the panel, they were also able to enjoy samples from each brewery as well as appetizers from the museum’s chef, Stephen Kerschner.

Some of the highlights from each brewery included the tart, fairly floral Blueberry Lavender beer from Scratch Brewing Company; the bright and refreshing Denim Tux Blue Corn Lager from Born and Arrow Brewing; the Big Chief Crème Stout from Cajun Fire Brewing Company, which offered soothing French Vanilla and coffee notes; and the Wisconsin Belgian Red, a very cherry-focused beer from New Glarus Brewing Company whose taste resembled a Jolly Rancher.

“I’m always so grateful for public enthusiasm for beer through the lens of history,” McCulla said. “My job is much easier and fun because the public has a sense of investment in the topic.”

For the future, at some point in 2019, McCulla said the public should expect a refreshed food exhibition on the first floor of the museum in the east wing with a new installation that will focus on brewing history. Some of the items that were displayed in Last Call will be incorporated into the exhibit.

For more information about the Museum’s American Brewing History Initiative, click here

Photo courtesy of Marta Staudinger

‘Coalesce’ Exhibition Finds Synergy in Separation

Art galleries have a somewhat unfair reputation for being unapproachable and designed for a niche audience, but for Marta Staudinger and Christine Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition, the opposite could not have been truer.

As I stepped into The Bryne Gallery in quaint Middleburg, Virginia, I felt enveloped in a warm, golden embrace that seemed to reflect off the various art pieces around the room and what I saw were vibrant creations from Staudinger and Olmstead that felt youthful and energetic without feeling overwhelming.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the exhibition, though, was that both artists had incredibly distinctive styles of abstract painting, but they didn’t clash; Staudinger and Olmstead’s styles “coalesced” in a way that allowed each artist to stand out but still feel like one in the same, much like telling the same story from different points of view.

With such different styles, I wondered how the two decided to create art together. Staudinger admits that the thought never really crossed their minds until they kept finding themselves being connected through their art: they were commissioned to create a piece each that was meant to complement each other, then Olmstead had an exhibition in Staudinger’s gallery in DC.

It was there that “the man who hung our works from that [aforementioned] commission for this corporate client is one of the co-owners of the gallery and he saw a lot of synergy between our work,” Staudinger says.

It also helps that when the two started this project together over the summer, they agreed to use the same color palette: mostly earthy tones like greens, blues, reds with bolder colors like copper and gold.

Staudinger’s take on the palette included works that often felt like looking at a landscape with lots of use of texture, straight lines and panels of color with names for the pieces like “Turquoise Pearl Frost” and “On Cloud 9.”

A standout of Staudinger’s was a largely white canvas with four deep red vertical strokes named “Catalunya,” a statement piece that incorporates elements of the Catalan flag and history.

Olmstead’s interpretation of the agreed-upon color palette was much more flowy and softer than Staudinger’s, but still with glimpses of boldness and texture as well. And where Staudinger’s pieces looked like staring into the distance, Olmstead’s felt close and personal, almost like a zoomed-in look at a flower. Each of Olmstead’s pieces had names that started with “Don’t Stop” and ended in multiple variations like “Don’t Stop 16” and “Don’t Stop Making Mistakes” – little reminders for herself, Olmstead says, to never stop looking for the goodness in life and growing as a person.

One of Olmstead’s standout pieces (perhaps not surprisingly next to Staudinger’s “Catalunya”) was “Don’t Stop Seeing the Light,” a canvas of light blues and greys as the backgrounds with layers of reds, browns and coppers built on top, slightly less big than the layer before to create a focal point of sorts. The final touch was dashes of gold flake paint that acted like cracks of light breaking through the grey.

“I ended up gravitating more towards some colors and Marta gravitated a little more towards other,” Olmstead says. “I think you can see that they’re all in the same palette but her works maybe have a little more of one color and mine tend to have a little bit more of another.”

While the two artists had different takes on and inspirations for their individual works, Staudinger says they shared an overall design for the exhibition, although an unusual one; instead of a curator seeking them out to feature a series of their works, they “created these pieces together to be site specific,” Staudinger says.

But that was where their collaborating in-person roughly ended – each piece they created was made in their separate work spaces in different towns. The two wouldn’t see each other’s finished works until they would meet at the gallery to set up the exhibition.

And so we all found ourselves in a small gallery in the middle of rural Virginia with two artists who’s styles are wildly different, and yet complimentary. After listening to people’s conversations around the room, and seeing for myself, I’d say we all agree that whatever creative spark Staudinger and Olmstead share, we want more collaboration between them in the future.

“I love that we’ve been able to share experiences and vulnerabilities and techniques and formulas…without really bleeding into each other’s styles,” Olmstead says. “The pieces look so different and we both have very distinct styles [but] our pieces are of the same soul and of the same flavor because, as Marta said, we are people of the same flavor.”

Check out Staudinger and Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition at The Byrne Gallery in Middleburg, Virginia. The exhibition run’s until November 4.

The Byrne Gallery: 7 W Washington St. Middleburg, VA; 540-687-6986; www.byrnegallery.com