Artist, curator and educator 

On going project 2019 - researching figures from Edwards place 

"When Helen Edwards came to Illinois as a young bride in 1840, She had almost no experience in running a household; she remembered shedding many a tear over her first attempts at cooking. Over the years, through trial and error, and with help from friends and advice from cookbooks, Helen became an excellent cook and hostess whose guests included Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John T. Stuart, Stephen Logan, and other leading lights of Springfield.

Helen faced challenges in her kitchen that 21st century cooks can hardly fathom. Her cooking was done over a wood-burning, cast-iron stove with no method of accurately regulating the temperature. 

Without electrical refrigeration, fruits and vegetables were canned and stored in the cellar under the kitchen; that is if vegetables could be had at all, for an unlucky drought could wipe out a season's worth of long-anticipated produce. Although food was available for purchase from the market, it was completely unprocessed: a chicken dinner began by plucking the feathers from the bird.

Still, as a woman of means, Helen had luxuries in her kitchen. Fragments of bottles recovered from an early Edwards Place privy indicate that the family was purchasing prunes and olive oil imported from France. Helen's letters frequently mention oysters and lemons, both expensive treats in central Illinois. For large parties she hired the local confectioner, Willian Watson, to create his signature pyramid of macaroons covered in spun sugar, which was the toast of legislative parties in antebellum Springfield.

Within a decade of her marriage, Helen was able to hire a cook to take over kitchen duties. Having a live - in cook seems like an incredible luxury to 21st century readers, but cooks were common in upper-middle-class, 19th-century households. Nearly every family who owned a house employed at least one hired girl to help with the cooking and cleaning. These hired women, often German or Irish immigrants, were not always the panaceas that their employers had anticipated. In the 1860s, Helen's cook, Bridget, seems to have been something of a headache, causing Helen to complain that she "is careless and wasteful." In 1868, Helen lamented, "it makes me feel annoyed, and anxious, to pay such enormous wages and have so little done satisfactorily, and withal endure such willful extravagance, as Bridget continually is guilty of in all her work. I must look for another and at less wages." Sometime later Helen did hire a new cook, whom she described as "A fine German woman, who represents herself as a splendid cook, having lived with Kings - Princes, Lords, (all misters I reckon) but cannot understand a word of English, except Bread, and Pies." Though the new cook was relief, Helen was not entirely absolved from duties in the kitchen. When the household was between cooks or when the regular cook was temporarily absent, Helen had to roll up her sleeves and do the cooking herself. And, even when the cook was present and working hard, a lady of the house, such as Helen, were expected to know their way around the kitchen so they could effectively manage their employees."

Eating with the Edwards Family 
Erika Holst
The Springfield Art Association of Edwards Place, June, 2011

<Guppy Breeding: Being Orchid> will be in Exhibition, March 8-9, Hood Classroom, Krannert Art Museum


 Oct. 15 to Nov.9 in Gallery 336B of the ICC Academic Building

Opening Reception & Artist Talk 

October 15 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Gallery 336B Hours of Operation*
Monday – Thursday 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Friday 9:00 am-noon

*Please note that ICC is closed during holidays and breaks during the academic year; please call ahead to confirm the gallery is open.

Art Program office (309) 694-5113

Images from exhibition