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.


2 Weeks Left to see the Donut Exhibit at the City Reliquary & Closing Weekend Events

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There are two weeks left to see the “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit at the City Reliquary! I also wanted to announce some special events that we have planned for the final weekend, March 1st and 2nd. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 1, 3 p.m.
Talk by Sally Levitt Steinberg, author of The Donut Book

Celebrate the final weekend of our “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut: Donut Shops Past and Present of Brooklyn and Manhattan,” exhibit with a talk by Sally Levitt Steinberg, America’s reigning donut princess, and author of The Donut Book.

In her talk, Sally will trace key moments in the history of the donut. From doughy origins in the biblical era, to the momentous invention of the “Wonderful-Almost-Human-Automatic-Donut-Machine” by her grandfather, to the gourmet turn donuts have taken in recent years, we’ll learn how these innovations have led to the sweet treat we’re so familiar with today.

Copies of “The Donut Book” will be available for purchase at the City Reliquary.
Lecture free with paid museum admission of $5 per person.

Carpe Donut NYC plans to bring their truck and have donuts for sale on this special day too. Stay tuned for updates!
Facebook invite here.

Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m.
Second (and final) meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club at the City Reliquary!

Come celebrate the last day of our “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit at our final Donut Dunkers Club meeting at the City Reliquary Museum! A revival of the 1930s National Dunking Association, this club will meet to practice donut dunking techniques, and will be led by the Reliquary’s own Donut Historian, Julie Thomson (that’s me!). Everyone who attends will receive an official Donut Dunkers Club membership card, and donuts and coffee will be served for dunking (and eating) purposes.

Free with paid museum admission of $5. Facebook invite here.

If you haven’t seen the donut exhibit yet, be sure to stop in before March 2nd! The City Reliquary is located at 370 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and is open Thursdays-Sundays 12-6 p.m. Suggested admission is $5.

Two donut items not in the exhibit, because I’ll be wearing them

Donut necklace charm and pin

While most of my collection of donut ephemera is on view at the City Reliquary for Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut, these are two objects I left out since I’ll be wearing them at this weekend’s opening events. The first is a silver charm with the Mayflower Doughnut shop motto on the front. I discovered it online and it came with very little information. On the back it has this info: DCA June 1964 GDM. DCA at that time would have stood for DCA Food Industries, what Doughnut Corporation of America was renamed in 1956. Perhaps this was some sort of award for employees of the company with the initials GDM? I would love to find out more about it.

The motto on this necklace is special to me since when I was growing up it was on a mug (on view in the exhibit) that belonged to my Mom. As a child this motto felt mysterious to me, but today I agree wholeheartedly with the optimistic perspective it promotes.

The pin is another version of signaling one’s membership in the National Dunking Association which I mentioned in a previous post. In the invaluable The Donut Book by Sally Levitt Steinberg (granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, the founder of the Doughnut Corporation of America), she tells a story of wearing a similar pin on her first day of first grade. In the exhibit I discuss the rich history of the Doughnut Corporation of America and its contributions to popularizing the donut in greater detail.

Join us this weekend for the opening events for Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut and you’ll likely get to see these two objects.
Saturday, December 7, 6-9 p.m. Opening Celebration & Donut Party
Sunday, December 8, 3 p.m. Gallery Talk and meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club

Preview: Two more items in my “Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut” exhibit & the First Meeting of the Donut Dunkers Club

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In the 1930s the National Dunking Association was founded. In addition to buttons that had names of specific donut shops, according to the membership card being a life member meant that you were “permitted at all times to dunk donuts either in private or in public, without criticism or interference.” At one point there were reportedly 3 million members! The Association’s headquarters was at 152 West 42nd Street in New York City. It seems to have been started by the Doughnut Corporation of America and they involved movie stars to help popularize the trend.  The buttons show above will be on view in the Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut exhibit at Brooklyn’s City Reliquary. One of these mentions Mayflower Doughnuts, which had a location in Times Square and became the first donut shop chain in the United States.

For the Keep Your Eye on the Donut exhibit we were inspired by the buttons of the National Dunking Association to revive the spirit of this group and we’re forming the Donut Dunkers Club. At meetings we will practice donut dunking techniques. We’ll have a few meetings of the DDC at the City Reliquary during the exhibition including the first one on Sunday, December 8th following a gallery talk at 3 p.m.. Everyone who attends will receive an official Donut Dunkers Club membership card. Donut Dunkers Club buttons will also be available. Coffee for that meeting will be provided by Oslo. Click here for more details.