77. Reliquary Toothpick Dispenser with J.C. Contact Relic

Edition of 33 copies
3.25″ x 2.75″ x 1″

This project is an amuse-bouche for a forthcoming work on relics, reliquaries, pilgrimage, tourists and souvenirs, which was begun in 1989. Around 15 years ago this writer found herself in front of a crown of thorns reliquary in Vienna’s Schatzkammer, or imperial treasure. The crown of thorns resembled a common toothpick. For many years I envisioned a toothpick dispenser in the front cover of the reliquary book. But hard choices need to be made in the process of creating a work of art. The cover is not able to accommodate the toothpick concept, but fortunately it is now a stand-alone work.

Soon after witnessing the crown of thorns relic, 19th century toothpick souvenirs were discovered in a Maine antique shop. The most interesting feature of the toothpicks is their handwritten text. On one side it reads, “CURES MANY ILLS”. As the whole point of visiting relics was for the purpose of curing ills, this message could not be more appropriate on an object approximating a crown of thorns relic. The phrase on the opposite side reads, “DRINK POLAND WATER”. Pilgrimages have been made to curative waters from ancient times. In Palazzo Massimo in Rome, there are metal drinking cups with the pit stops from Spain to a curative spring in Rome, with the distances inscribed between cities all along the itinerary, a polyfunctional pilgrim accoutrement.

It is not surprising that toothpicks served as souvenirs in Maine; there was a flourishing toothpick industry aided by a ready supply of birch trees. The earliest toothpicks were flat, very irregular, and had extremely sharp points that broke off easily. Later they were improved with a round shape, but the flat surface allowed producers of these souvenirs to write messages on them, for advertising. Some of them have typos, or backwards letters, but they are written with such a steady hand in pen and ink they appear to be printed.

A toothpick might be found on a kitchen floor. The kitchen floor here is also a fake relic of sorts – the reproduction of J.C. or Julia Child’s linoleum floor, the only part of Julia’s kitchen that got left behind in Cambridge, MA when the Smithsonian dismantled it and brought it to Washington, DC for the world to see. The Smithsonian is composed of real people, not angels per se, that are reputed to magically transport relics over long distances, like the remains of St. James of Compostela to Spain. This institution is the benevolent force referred to in the reliquary’s text below, inscribed by hand on vellum, or animal skin. The curative toothpicks were purchased in Maine three weeks before I travelled to Washington, DC for the inauguration of the Julia Child kitchen at the National Museum of American History, and Julia’s 90th birthday party, August 18, 2002. Sadly, that festive occasion was Julia’s farewell to the East Coast, including her beloved Maine, where she shared her actual 90th birthday on August 15th with nieces and nephews.

It was also the last time I saw Julia (for a chronicle of Julia’s friendship, see archive item 52. commissioned by Julia’s alma mater, Smith College) for her native California turned out to be her final resting place two years later, in 2004. This reliquary marks the tenth anniversary of Julia’s death. If you want to mark her birth, get together with friends every August 15th and have hors d’oeuvres which might include goldfish crackers, French cheese and a sparkling beverage, perhaps with French grapes transplanted to California. Bon Appétit!

Toothpick attached with woven metal thread onto a test swatch of J.C.’s linoleum kitchen floor. Titling archival ink on acid-free cardboard. 19th century toothpick from Maine. Birch frame with acrylic pane. Dishcloth contact relic sized with archival glue, and attached with brass wire. Woven tab which allows the frame to open in order to view the reliquary is one of three food-related maxims woven on an electronic loom for the artist’s piece “Maxims by the Yard – Some in Meter: Spools of Knowledge Volume I” (item 49. in the online archive).



Inspired by a crown of thorns reliquary. The souvenir toothpick claims that Poland, Maine water “CURES MANY ILLS”. The dishcloth contact relic equals a pilgrimage to the kitchen it came from, which was transported by benevolent forces in 2002 from Cambridge, MA to Washington, D.C., aside from the linoleum, which was faked. Bon Appetit!

Angela Lorenz       /33

When the turquoise, black and white striped contact relic is lifted, the following text is revealed:


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