Looking back at the Closing Weekend for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary

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“Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” closed at the City Reliquary Museum on Sunday, March 2, 2014. It was an absolute delight to share the history of New York City’s donuts and donut shops with everyone who visited. We received wonderful media coverage up to the very end of the exhibit including a video by NBC New York that ran in the back of New York City taxis in the final week and we were a weekend pick on WNYC. To celebrate the final weekend we also had some special events.

On Saturday, March 1st Sally Levitt Steinberg, author of The Donut Book gave a wonderful talk and Carpe Donut NYC brought their delicious donut truck to the City Reliquary. Sally is the granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, inventor of the “Wonderfully Almost Human Automatic Donut Machine.” She talked about the history and origins of donuts. Some of my favorite quotes include:
“Who invented the donut? We all did. It’s been around since Bible times.”
About her grandfather’s creating the automatic donut machine: “He created something more American than he was.”
On how doughnut became donut. Adolph Levitt “shortened it for pr purposes. He took out the oug.”

The Donut Book was a pioneering moment in preserving donut history and it remains an invaluable must-read resource. “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” was also greatly informed to the great materials from Sally’s Donut Ephemera Collection that she donated to the National Museum of American History. It was a pleasure to meet the Donut Princess and to build upon the great donut history foundation she’s provided. A number of members of the Levitt family also visited the exhibit and it was great to share some artifacts about Adolph Levitt’s legacy and hear their stories.

On Sunday we held a final meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club. We handed out donuts, coffee (generously provided by Oslo), and Donut Dunkers Club cards to attendees and then got to work reviewing the Rules for Dunking. The 2 1/2 seconds for dunking the donut in the coffee is important to abide by. Attendees shared their own dunking techniques and donut memories. Additional photos from the closing weekend can be seen on the City Reliquary’s Facebook page here.

While the donut exhibit has closed, don’t forget that you can still visit the 9 present-day donut shops that we highlighted in it. Here’s a map of them to help you find them.

It was an amazing experience to present “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary. I am so thankful for the City Reliquary’s embrace of this exhibit and their devotion to New York City’s everyday history. They are truly one of city’s greatest treasures and more cities need reliquaries like this.

Tremendous thanks to Anna Olivia Grant for the beautiful photographs of the 9 present-day donut shops that we highlighted and for all her help in making this exhibit possible (don’t miss the interview I did with her here). Thank you to all of the donut shop owners highlighted in this exhibit for sharing their stories with us. Thank you to everyone at the City Reliquary, particularly Bill Scanga for installing the exhibit so beautifully. Thank you also to Dave Herman for taking me on as a volunteer back when I lived in Williamsburg. Thank you to Matt Levy and Jeff Tancil for all of their help too.

One of the questions I’ve gotten is, where will the exhibit go next? There’s no plans yet for additional venues, but I am willing to talk more to anyone who’s interested in showing it. Additional research and reframing of the exhibit would be needed, but I’d love to share the donut’s history and the history of donut shops in other cities with more donut lovers out there.

All slideshow photographs by Anna Olivia Grant.

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Interview: Anna Olivia Grant, photographer for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut”

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If you’ve seen “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” at the City Reliquary, you may be wondering who took the beautiful photographs of the nine present day donut shops that we highlighted in the exhibit.

The woman behind the lens is Anna Olivia Grant, a photographer, photo stylist, and souvenir maker who lives in Cobble Hill. Anna and I met in the M.A. Art History program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and we’ve been friends ever since. This is our first official collaboration. She also designed the logo for this exhibit. It was such a delight to do some initial visits to donut shops back in June with Anna, and she returned to each to take the photographs on view in the donut exhibit.

Ever wonder what it’s like to photograph hundreds of donuts? Read this interview I conducted with Anna.

What was your favorite part about photographing these donut shops?

Anna Olivia Grant: It was so much fun to meet the people who ran the donut shops. You find that all the shops have great distinctions between them, but a constant was how nice they all were. They were so excited to have something that they worked so hard on being photographed.

What was the most challenging part about taking photographs of donuts and the donut shops?

AG: People want you to eat a lot of donuts, more than I could handle, and I love donuts. You can’t turn them down, so you have to take them. They were all so amazing too. But walking to get to these donut shops burned off any that I ate.

Are there any technical details that you’d like to reveal about your process?

AG: I had a lot of luck in terms of the daylight I caught in each shop. I also used a really fast lens if I was in the back of shops. The fast lens helped catch movement, like when I photographed them making donuts and shaking the powdered sugar at Mike’s Donuts.

Do you have a favorite type of donut?

AG: I started out as a Pom Pom fan (laughs). I was an evangelist for Pom Poms, especially the ones from Peter Pan. They still hold a special place in my heart. But the diversity of the donuts that I ate made me think I no longer have allegiance to a specific donut. (laughs) Before this I didn’t like raised donuts, but then I had an amazing one, and I love them now. The Paris Time sugar from Doughnuterry was amazing, as well as the Lemon Ginger from Dough. The strawberry glazed with sprinkles from Shaikh’s was enchanting as well as anything glazed from Mike’s Donuts.

What else did you learn about donuts?

AG: Some of the most delicious donuts don’t photograph the best. But they were so delicious.

What is your background in photography?

AG: I’ve learned a lot from experimenting. I’ve taken only two photography classes. What I generated in those never used the principles being taught in class so the teachers were never happy since I couldn’t replicate what they wanted me to, but I still learned a lot. I was really lucky to take classes at F.I.T. and to get to see images there and what people were capable of doing with the equipment that they had.

There are thousands of donut photos from this project.  Sometimes if I wasn’t getting the result I wanted, I would sit with the donut for hours.

I love pictures of food too. I had a subscription to Gourmet magazine when I was 11. The aesthetic qualities of food is one of my favorite things to look at.

Is there anything from the photo styling work that you’ve assisted with, that was helpful to this project?

AG: Figuring out what people want for the photograph that you’re taking and that communication is key. Your curatorial needs had all of these things that needed to be photographed for the exhibit: the outside, the inside, the single donut, a person, so I was always trying to work to get those shots. I definitely used what I had learned about working in a set time frame, even though sometimes I could go back to get a shot I needed, and another donut.

Did anything unexpected happen while shooting these photographs?

AG: Other than getting frosting in all the buttons in my camera? (laughs). The immediate reception that I got at some shops was amazing. Being there for 3 or 4 hours I got to know the people working and I felt the camaraderie. Now when I go back to the donut shops I’m just as warmly welcomed. It’s amazing.

Did any other photographer’s work inspire your approach to this project?

AG: All of those Art History classes we took, all of the principles of composition, the color theory, patterning, color studies, that was all there playing a part. There are hundreds of artists that I thought about when I looked at the donuts, the configurations, the colors. From Pop Art to Wayne Thiebaud, even Frans Hals’s neck ruff, I saw those art historical references in donuts.

How many donuts did you eat while shooting these photographs?

AG: Most of these photos I shot over the course of two solid weeks. I think I ate 25 donuts. I was lucky to also share a lot with friends.

What did you learn from this project?

AG: That I really do love taking photographs of food and getting to interact with the people who make it.

All slideshow photographs by Anna Olivia Grant. Want to contact Anna? Reach her at anna.o.grantATgmail.com

More Wonderful Media Coverage for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut”

"Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut" present day donut shops. All photographs by Anna O. Grant.

“Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” present day donut shops. All photographs by Anna O. Grant.

With all the cold out there, I think the thought of fresh, handmade donuts is comforting. We’ve gotten more great media coverage for the exhibit Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut on view at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary through March 2, 2014.  The beautiful photographs in many of these stories are by Anna O. Grant, who also photographed the 9 present day donut shops highlighted in the exhibit.

New York Times
A Sweet History: Doughnuts in New York City

NY Daily News
Donut history being celebrated in Brooklyn museum exhibit

NY1 News
City Reliquary Exhibit Explores NYC’s Donut History

Busy Beaver Button Co. Blog
Doughnut Dunkers, Unite!

untapped cities
Top 10 Off-the-Radar Museums in NYC

Check out the other wonderful media coverage we’ve received here.

Donut Memories

finaldonut3 jpeg (1024x732)

For many the donut is a sweet loaded with memories. This is the beginning of a project to capture, preserve, and reflect on people’s donut memories. Memories included in these first two installments were recorded at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary during the opening events for the exhibit Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut: Donut Shops past & present of Brooklyn & Manhattan.

Listen to Donut Memories Installment 1 here.

Listen to Donut Memories Installment 2 here.

Donut Shop Map for “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit

Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut donut shops map

Before or after you visit Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary Museum (on view through February 28, 2014), I hope that you’ll also visit the 9 present day donut shops we’ve highlighted in it. Here’s a donut shop map to make it even easier for you to find them! Carpe Donut NYC isn’t on this map since they are a food truck and their location changes daily, but they can typically be found in Manhattan during the week and Brooklyn on the weekend. Find out where Carpe Donut NYC is here.

Donut shop addresses:
Carpe Donut NYC
Parks in various locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn
http://www.carpedonutnyc.com

Donut Pub
203 W. 14th Street, Manhattan
Open 24 hours
http://www.donutpub.com

Dough
448 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn
http://www.doughbrooklyn.com

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street, Manhattan
220 W. 23rd Street, Manhattan
http://www.doughnutplant.com

Doughnuttery
425 W. 15th Street, Chelsea Market Arcade, Manhattan
http://www.doughnuttery.com

Dun-Well Doughnuts
222 Montrose Avenue, Brooklyn
http://www.dunwelldoughnuts.com

Mike’s Donuts & Coffee
6822 5th Avenue, Brooklyn
http://www.mikesdonuts.com

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop
727 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn
http://www.peterpan-donuts.com

Shaikh’s Donuts
1503 Avenue U, Brooklyn
Open 24 hours
718-375-2572

Photographs from “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit opening

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Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut opened at the City Reliquary Museum & Civic Organization on Saturday, December 6, 2013. The exhibit will be on view through February 28, 2014. Don’t miss the chance to see it!

A selection of photographs from the opening weekend are in the slide show above. Additional photographs can also be seen on The City Reliquary’s Facebook page here and here. These photographs, and the photographs of the 9 present day donut shops in the exhibit, are by Anna O. Grant.

Preview: One of the items in my “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” Exhibit

Party Pamphlet

In the weeks leading up to my exhibit Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut: Donut Shops Past & Present of Brooklyn & Manhattan I’ll post a few objects from my collection of donut ephemera that will be on view in the exhibit at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary Museum.

I’m starting with the booklet “How to Run a Successful Party,” published by the Doughnut Corporation of America in 1945. It contains games and recipes, many of which involve donuts. When it came out, World War II was still going on and it promoted both parties and donuts as “morale boosters.” At the Keep Your Eye on the Donut exhibit opening on Saturday, December 7th we’ll be playing some donut games from this booklet. Hope to see you at the City Reliquary on the 7th!