I Bought Part of Julia Child’s Pegboard Wall — And It’s the Best Thing I Own
Last month, to celebrate what would have been Julia Child’s 109th birthday, I wrote a story about clever organizational tricks to steal from Julia Child’s kitchen. After the piece was published, one of our readers, Shannon Fuller of San Francisco, California, reached out to us to share photos of her own connection with the legendary Julia. She had purchased a portion of Julia’s iconic pegboard wall (tools and apron included!) from an auction in the late 1990s. I asked Fuller if she’d share the story of how she came upon the pegboard. Here’s her story, in her words.
[Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
How I Came to Own a Piece of Julia Child’s Legacy
Years ago, I worked as the executive assistant to the director for a national organization celebrating the wine and food industries called The American Institute of Wine & Food, which Mondavi and Julia founded in 1981. They had been friends and also worked on Copia together. Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Mondavi decided to focus on funding a wine school at University of California, Davis, so they turned their attention to that. But Copia kept chugging along. And later, AIWF paired up with Copia.
When Julia decided to sell her house in Boston, she donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian. Because she also loved Copia, she gave a chunk of her kitchen there. And this last pegboard, along with a bunch of tools, she donated to AIWF. Because I was working there at the time, Julia’s assistant Stephanie and I would create bouquets of her kitchen tools to be sold at auction to support AIWF.
“Everyone Wants Julia Junk.”
“It’s all Julia junk. I can’t believe people want Julia junk,” Stephanie said. I responded, “Stephanie, everyone wants Julia junk!” AIWF eventually moved from San Francisco to Tennessee, so I decided to get another job. But when they had an auction in San Francisco, I went with my husband, my brother, and my brother’s wife.
Once we got there, we saw they were auctioning off Julia’s pegboard! My husband and I were pretty young at this point — in our 20s. We both said, “There is no way we are going to be able to afford this. It’s the last item on the auction block. We’ll just see who gets it.” Still, my husband added, “But we should really try, anyway.”
In truth, we really didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But I thought, if I could just have that pegboard, it wouldn’t matter. We had to try!
The auction went on and people bid. By the end of the night, when the wall finally came up — we somehow got it! We looked at each other, saying, “How the hell did this happen?” I don’t remember how much we paid for it, but we really didn’t have more than $3,000 to spend. And that’s pushing it. So now we were just aghast. We could not believe we had actually gotten it.
We got it home and had it hung up in our kitchen. We loved it, and I said, “These are Julia’s tools, you can’t touch them!”
One Thanksgiving, however, my husband used one of Julia’s tools! He was going through this phase of deep-frying turkey. He needed something to get it out of the pot, and in his attempt, he actually broke one of the tools. I was so upset! You would not believe how unreasonable I was. I didn’t want him touching her stuff! Looking back on it, though, I think Julia would have been annoyed that we weren’t using the tools. She was an eminently practical, reasonable human. She would have been devastated we were treating it like art. I could just hear her say, “This is supposed to be functional!”
We had it framed and it’s moved from house to house with us. Whenever we have parties, people always take photos with it — it’s the main focal piece in our dining room.
A Piece of Julia and her Husband
You can see the slightly irregular lines where Julia’s husband, Paul Cushing Child, traced all of her tools so she knew exactly where they went. My favorite part about the pegboard is that it’s a love story between Paul and Julia. He supported what she loved doing and wanted to make it easier for her. It was his gift to her. Some people may look at it and think, “Oh, it’s tools from a famous cook,” but it really is a testament to their partnership. The pegboard is a beautiful thing on a lot of levels!
Do you have any Julia Child stories or memories to share? Tell us in the comments below.