By JOEL DAVIS
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."