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Knoxville News Sentinel

The Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers available to the right buyer
Kristen Morales
Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's easy to take them for granted.
They sit in nearly everyone's kitchen pantry or on the table, holding two of the most commonly used spices. Yet it's easy to overlook their exteriors.
But Rolf and Andrea Ludden noticed.
The couple's obsession with salt and pepper shakers began as a hobby decades ago. But over the years, as they traveled the country in their motor home - Rolf, a jewelry designer, sells his wares at art shows all over the country - the collection turned into an anthropological study worthy of a museum.
So, that's exactly where the Luddens' salt and pepper shakers ended up.
They opened the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers in Gatlinburg almost 10 years ago, and today have more than 20,000 pairs on display.
"In the beginning of the '80s we went to swap meets and flea markets - actually, we started with (pepper) grinding mills," said Rolf Ludden, whose wife, Andrea, is an archaeologist. "After a while my wife started to fall in love with the shakers."
Rolf still has an affinity for the pepper mills - the couple has about 1,500 of them, but, it's the myriad salt and pepper shakers that are the stars of the show.
A visit to the museum is like seeing a world of travels, history and cartoon characters in a blur - and in miniature. The shakers are meticulously separated by categories, such as the type of material used to make them, the type of animal or person they depict, or the place they represent.
Walking through the glass-lined hallways, you can see, say, hundreds of woodland creatures or barnyard animals or plastic household items from the 1950s. There are ceramic corn figures with grimacing faces. Donkeys - some pulling carts, some without. Chubby babies and chubby chefs. Angels, devils and miniature fried eggs.
A section of shakers from around the world is separated by international or domestic locations. There are figurines from Niagara Falls and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
And Florida. Lots from Florida.
Rolf said the states with the biggest treasure trove of shakers lie along the rust belt: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
"In the 1900s there were big factories," he said. "When the Depression came, the factories that made dishes didn't have any orders, so they started to do smaller items like salt and pepper shakers."
After the 1930s the production of the shakers moved to Japan - first occupied Japan, then Japan, then China.
"But the creativity is from here," he noted. "That's the interesting thing about it. My wife is an archaeologist and that's where she decides - on the creativity. It's so interesting to see all the different things."
Today the museum and the family's artistic endeavors are a family affair. Rolf and Andrea have two grown children who are artists in their own right and also have a love for the quirky salt and pepper shakers they've grown up around.
But for as much as they love the shakers, Rolf and Andrea have been working a long time, and they admit they would like to retire, at some point.
So, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is up for sale - to the right person.
In an innocuous note posted among the display cases, Andrea writes how the family would sell the museum to the right person, one who can take it "to the next stop."
Rolf puts it more plainly.
"We are not in a hurry," he said. "We want the museum to stay, (for someone) to keep it going. One day we want to retire."
Rolf and Andrea's daughter, also named Andrea, said the family wants to devote some time to their new museum, too. On May 21, a sister museum to the Gatlinburg attraction opened in Spain.
"We opened another one in Spain, and we don't want to feel too spread," said daughter Andrea, who makes jewelry with her father and travels around the country selling pieces at art shows. "That's why I wouldn't mind it if it's someone who has a passion for salt and pepper shakers. We've already invested seven years of our lives to bring it to fruition. It has to continue; there's no other option."
Whether the museum stays in the family or is sold to another salt and pepper shaker lover, Andrea said she'll always carry her parents' love of the items. While she doesn't have a favorite - there are just too many, she says - she does favor the retro-themed plastic ones, like the miniature fried eggs.
"We're a very close-knit family," she said, and she notes that she and her brother always appreciated the salt and pepper shakers.
"I don't think we were given an option."
Kristien Morales is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.


Staff Writer
The Mountain Press

GATLINBURG - For the two Andrea Luddens, the spice of life is found in celebrating a rather humble household item: the salt and pepper shaker.

Andrea and Andrea Ludden, mother and daughter, are the owners of the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, the only one of its kind, which houses more than 17,000 salt and pepper shakers from all over the world.

"What I admire is the creativity of the people that made all these containers for salt and pepper," mother Andrea said. "Very good artists have worked on the pieces. You can also make anthropology work with them. You can travel the 20s, 30s, 40s, 60s - you can see how people change."

The collection almost defies description. To walk down the dim hallways of the museum is to be overwhelmed by the sheer variety - shakers made in the form of Santa Claus or Amish farmers, big shakers or tiny ones, shakers made of gold, silver, wood or marble. "There are pieces in any category you can think of," daughter Andrea said. "They are made of almost any material. That's the whole fun of it. It's the joy of collecting. It's endless. Nobody can own all the salt and pepper shakers ever made."

The younger woman picks one shaker up as an example. It is shaped like some sort of animal and begins to rock within its ceramic base as soon as it is moved. "This is a style called a nodder, so if you move it, it keeps going back and forth, back and forth, with momentum," Andrea said.

The variety doesn't end there. "Some are even covered with fur," she said, pointing out a shaker that resembles a poodle. "Who would have thought of that?" There are even some shakers that contain working compasses. "So you won't get lost in your dining room," daughter Andrea said, with a smile.

A bit further on and visitors encounter the room that the elder Andrea calls "the vault," which displays all the shakers made of gold and silver. The experience can be a bit overwhelming to the first time visitor. "There is a certain point in the walk when you can see their eyes go "Okay!" and glaze over," daughter Andrea said.

The Ludden family had quite an interesting resume even before founding the museum. Andrea Ludden, the mother, left her native Belgium after World War II, traveling to South America as an archeologist. Daughter Andrea and father Rolf make hand-crafted jewelry, specializing in brass and sterling silver, that she sells at shows across the country. The family holds a patent for an earring that does not require piercing. Andrea attends 28 to 35 jewelry shows a year, primarily in the Midwest. "That's where the money is," she said.

The Luddens moved from Texas to New Mexico to California and then to Florida before deciding to settle in East Tennessee four years ago, opening the museum at a location in Cosby. The collection quickly outgrew the original building, so the Luddens moved the business to Winery Square in Gatlinburg in 2004.

The museum grew out of mother Andrea's own personal collection, which began with a single pepper mill. "The collection started to accumulate," she said. "One day my husband said 'You do something with it so I don't have to move it any more." The collection is still growing. Both Andreas continue to acquire the more salt and pepper shakers, but the elder has the real talent for it. "She has a radar that is really amazing," daughter Andrea said.

Salt and pepper shaker collecting is far more prevalent that one might expect. "Everybody is connected to a collector, one way or another, whether it is an aunt, a grandmother, a mother, or a colleague," daughter Andrea said. "We say if you have more than two, you're a collector. "Some collectors, however, more serious about the hobby than others”."For the last 15 years, they've been steadily going up in price," she said. "Some collectors are willing to spend thousands of dollars."

The museum averaged about 220 visitors per day during summer 2005. They came from all over the United States. The Luddens also hosted collectors from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Great Britain and Japan.

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is getting its share of media attention. It will be featured on upcoming episodes of "Unwrapped" and "Good Eats" on the Food Network.

”Once someone walks into the museum, they're bound to see more than they initially expected”, daughter Andrea said. "It is under people's radars, but they say "I remember seeing that at grandma's house,'" she said.”People have a lot of memories related to salt and pepper shakers."



Here we are in the Saturday Evening Post for the Nov/Dec 2007 issue.
One little booboo, we have over 20,000 but who cares!!