Specialty serveware from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)
Game terrines from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)
Copper kitchen implements from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)
Bread-making tools from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)
Copper molds from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)
Ceramic molds from the collection of Charles "Chuck" Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma. (Courtesy Culinary Institute of America)

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Williams-Sonoma’s Founder Is Getting His Own Museum

The museum will feature the 4,000-plus pieces of cookware that the kitchenware impresario donated upon his death

smithsonian.com

Do you dream of a kitchen that looks like it came out of a Williams-Sonoma catalog? Charles "Chuck" Williams, a carpenter turned culinary explorer—who founded the company in 1956—owned such a fantasy kitchen. And now, reports Allison Aubrey for NPR, William’s cooking equipment will be incorporated into a new museum in Napa Valley, California.

Aubrey writes that the Culinary Institute of America, which received Williams’ vast collection of kitchen tools and equipment when he died last year, has established the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum in downtown Napa. Housed in a building that also holds the CIA’s new Food Business School, the museum will showcase some of the nearly 4,000 devices, gadgets and cookware Williams collected throughout his lifetime.

Williams wasn’t always a culinary impresario. Rather, he started his career as a carpenter who also loved French food. In the 1950s, he traveled to France, where he fell in love with fresh croissants, bistro life—and French cookware. Williams told longtime friend Laura Martin Bacon that at the time, American kitchens weren’t exactly foodie destinations. He got the inspiration to start a kitchenware store of his own from the myriad of molds, pans and cookware he found in France.

What happened next was a milestone in American retail history. Williams bought and converted a hardware store into a kitchenware store and a brand was born. Through the store and his mail order catalog, he encouraged Americans to incorporate more specialty cookware in their kitchens. Williams’ rise to stardom was helped along by another American culinary icon at the time, Julia Child. “While Julia Child guided these intrepid home cooks through unfamiliar techniques and recipes, Chuck Williams supplied them with previously unavailable cookware from France and Italy to help them achieve results,” writes Paula J. Johnson for a National Museum of American History (NMAH) blog post memorializing Williams.

Over the years, Williams collected an enormous amount of every kind of cookware, from antique ice cream molds to large appliances. The museum bearing his name will incorporate a large permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits to tell the history of kitchen tools and equipment. In a release, the Culinary Institute of America writes that “the extensive display of kitchen items collected within his lifetime will honor his legacy and ensure that culinary enthusiasts will always learn from and remember the history and traditions of our culinary heritage.”

The museum will join other classic cookware displays across the country, like the NMAH’s display of Julia Child’s entire kitchen and a drool-worthy collection of copper pans at the Arizona Copper Art Museum. But just like there’s always room for another kitchen gadget for the cooking-obsessed foodie, there’s always room for another museum that celebrates the ways people cook and enjoy food.

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