Shaking Things Up at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Maybe it’s because I’m solidly in my forties. Maybe it’s because I feel too acutely the never-ending draw of devices that shine and allow me to zone out in utterly unproductive ways. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much Wordsworth this year. Probably, it’s a little bit of everything.

I keep experiencing moments during which I notice a wistful pang of wonder that I’ve been missing…or maybe not that I’m missing the wonder so much as the opportunities to feel it. We all, the whole family, get busy with being busy and we don’t take the time to appreciate the pleasant little simplicities of life. Sure, we’re learning a lot and we’re experiencing a lot and we’re seeing a lot. But where is the pure delight?

Wooden figures at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Wooden figure shakers.

Yesterday the moment came in the most unexpected way, as is usually the case with these sparks. Visiting some family friends who were vacationing for the week in Gatlinburg, TN, we ended up with some time to kill between the “big” activities of shopping the Arts and Crafts Community Loop and taking in the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I had stumbled across a spot that seemed mildly interesting, so we took a chance and stopped in to see the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.

The only museum of its kind (aside from its sister museum in Spain), this spot is absolutely fascinating, if you’re attuned to the possibilities for being fascinated. Here we have the most basic of kitchen and dining tools: the humble salt and pepper shakers. They’re everywhere, right? Even the most rudimentary kitchen will have them. We see them so often that we don’t even see them.

Row after row of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Row after row of shakers.

Not at this museum. You can’t help but see them, all 20,000 pairs. Shelf after shelf, line after line, row after row of shakers. The experience is a veritable assault (ahem) on the eyes! Peppered throughout are sets of every shape and size, every color, from throughout history and from across the globe. From cutesy, to kitschy, to macabre; from dainty, to massive, to downright bizarre. The collection reaches meta-collection levels. You’ll see three or four shelves of cattle-themed shakers, then turn around and spot several sets fashioned after playing cards.

Shakers of all colors and sizes at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Shakers of all colors and sizes.

I was struck all at once by several ideas, the most lucid being the notion that this collection is as close as you’ll get to a truly common denominator. I know that not everyone uses salt and pepper, but the use of spice in some shape or another is pretty much part of the human condition. We crave flavor; we seek it out; we develop entire cultures in pursuit of it.

And what, after all, is that moment of delight that I’ve been missing? Just a little spice, a dash of mental salt to enrich the flavor of my life, a pinch of existential pepper to remind me to savor my wonderfully rich life.

So, dear reader, we come at last to this admonition. If ever you get the chance, get off the beaten path in Gatlinburg and visit the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Take a break from the grind of life and shake things up a bit.

A panorama of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
A panorama of shakers.

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