Meredith Sayles Hughes and Tom Hughes are the founders of The Potato Museum, and The Food Museum on Line at www.foodmuseum.com. The Potato Museum researches, collects, preserves, exhibits and explains the history and social significance of the world's most important vegetable, and brings artifacts and programs to audiences of all ages.
The Hugheses have been exploring food history since the mid-1970’s, when Tom first conceived The Potato Museum in Brussels, Belgium. Meredith and Tom have worked on two major exhibitions about food, Seeds of Change, for the Smithsonian, and The Amazing Potato for the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Ontario. Their most recent major exhibition, Spuds Unearthed!, ran at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC in 2010.
Their latest book, Gastronomie! Food Museums and Heritage Sites of France, is a guide to the food–related museums/sites/and shrines of France, the mother country of the food-preoccupied. It’s published by Bunker Hill.
The Potato Museum Timeline
1975 Tom Hughes and his 5th grade students create a classroom exhibit they call The Potato Museum, at the International School of Brussels (Belgium)
1976 Tom begins to collect potato memorabilia. The potato project continues as an after school club. The club sponsors a litter clean-up campaign in the community; the results include some 6,000 potato chip bags which are strung together as a garland. The chip bag garland decorates the playground for an afternoon of potato races and games. Local Belgian school children join in the festivities.
1977 The exhibit with Tom's collection expands to fill three unused classrooms and attracts community and press attention.
1978 Tom spends the summer researching the history of the potato. He attends the European Potato Association conference in Warsaw, Poland. Later he visits potato research centers in the USSR, the nations of Scandinavia and Germany.
1979 He resigns from his teaching position to continue research. He visits
potato farms and research centers in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
1980-83 Tom's potato passion (some call it an obsession) and his unique collection of artifacts earns him an invitation to tour the USA lecturing and presenting educational programs in schools and museums, and making media appearances. His appearance on Good Morning San Diego is so popular, the program invites him back the next day, something the station had never done before. As a guest on the Letterman show, Dave asks him why he didn't start a Brussels sprout museum. The Hugheses attend the American Potato Association annual meeting in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
1983 The Hughes family moves to Washington, DC. Tom begins teaching in McLean, Virginia.The collection continues to grow and is catalogued.
1984 Meredith writes The Great Potato Book for MacMillan Publishing, based on Tom's research.
1985 The Potato Museum collection is put on display in a small gallery space and opened by appointment.
1986 The Potato Museum incorporates as a non-profit. Two co-founders of The International Potato Center based in Lima, Peru serve on The Potato Museum's first board of directors. They are potato scientists Dr. Richard Sawyer, and Dr.John Niederhauser.
1987 Tom wins a Klingenstein Foundation award for excellence in teaching and studies potatoes in Peru with an Earthwatch expedition. Tom is invited to give a talk on the history and social influence of the potato at The International Potato Center in Lima.
1988 Meredith writes a paper which Tom delivers at the Asian Potato Conference Triennial in Kunming, China. The Hughes family tours China, Japan and Hawaii collecting for the museum.
1989 The Hugheses make a study/collecting trip to potato growing regions of the US Pacific Northwest...Idaho, Washington State, Oregon and California.
1990-1992 The Hugheses are guest curators for the Smithsonian's exhibition, "Seeds of Change: the Quincentenary of the Columbus Voyage to America." Simultaneously they work on "The Amazing Potato" the largest exhibition ever mounted by Canada's National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.
The Potato Museum becomes a popular subject for the media. Visitors come from many countries and states to see the exhibit. Groups start to arrive. A delegation of docent trainees from Colonial Williamsburg includes The Potato Museum as part of their tour of DC sights. An American University professor brings her graduate students in museum studies to the museum. People bring their dates, have birthdays and celebrate special anniversaries in the exhibit rooms.
The Hugheses are participants in several conferences on food history, lecture at the United States National Arboretum, make an appearance on the Charlie Rose Show, (then a locally based Washington, DC late night interview program) and are too busy to accept an invitation to be guests on Larry King's radio talk show.
The Washington Post writes a glowing editorial on the occasion of The Potato Museum closing its exhibition after the landlord objected to all the extra traffic.
1993 The museum moves with the Hughes family to Albuquerque, New Mexico,and loans objects to an exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. The Potato Museum spins off a new entity, The FOOD Museum. The Hugheses broaden their research, collections and focus to the other foods of the Americas. Later they begin to take on all the world's foods.
1994 The Hugheses produce the museum's first food awareness programs for children and adults. They present these programs throughout the Rio Grande Valley library system, various schools, museums, senior centers and other venues in the Southwest
1995 Tom is invited to take an exhibit from The Potato Museum collection to Belgium. The City Museum of New York borrows items for an exhibit called "Gaelic Gotham."
1996 The Hugheses launch The FOOD Museum's website, www.foodmuseum.com
1997 The Hugheses begin to offer workshops to teachers, take teen programs to the Navajo reservation and teach summer school classes for Isleta Pueblo's Gifted and Talented Project.
1998-2000 Meredith writes ten books for the award-winning Plants We Eat series published by Lerner.
2001 Irish Television documentary features The Potato Museum collection and the work of Tom and Meredith in promoting the importance of the role of the potato in history.
2002-2003 The Hugheses take their popular program "Planet Potato" on the road to diverse audiences in Texas, Arizona, Minnesota, Missouri and California.
El Camino Real International Heritage Center hires us to present educational programs in schools and festivals in Southern New Mexico.
2004-05 The Hugheses travel throughout France, Belgium and the UK researching a series of guidebooks on food museums and heritage sites. Discussions begin on establishing a permanent home in Europe for The Potato Museum.
2005-2006 After the Hugheses finish a 10,000 km trip around France, Meredith writes Gastronomie: Food Museums and Heritage Sites of France, published by Bunker Hill. Tom Hughes does all the planning and photography for the book.
2008-2010 Approached by the US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, to come up with an exhibition, The Potato Museum produces Spuds Unearthed!, an exhibit about the global potato, its history and culture. The exhibit is supported by a range of educational programming for people of all ages.
America: "Why We Love Her"
Exhibit at Denver International Airport
Notice that The Potato Museum is the only listing
for Washington, DC,
and the museum has not been there for a decade!