The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles Announces a New Exhibition St. Joseph’s Tables: Expressions of Devotion, Charity, and Abundance

Feb 20, 2020 565

BY: Francesca Guerrini

The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) is pleased to present a new temporary exhibition exploring the cultural-religious tradition of St. Joseph’s Tables, which are among the richest expressions of Italian American cultural identity and embody a living tradition that has transcended ethnic lines.

St. Joseph is one of the most venerated saints in Christianity; he is the patron saint of immigrants, workers, unborn children, refugees, and fathers, among others. Devotion to St. Joseph is particularly widespread among Italians and Italian Americans, especially those of Sicilian ancestry.

According to legend, the tradition of creating large food altars, or St. Joseph’s Tables, dates to the Middle Ages when there was a severe drought and famine in Sicily. The peasants prayed to St. Joseph, and when the rains arrived, they organized a celebration in his honor. This event became an annual tradition held around St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19.

Sicilian immigrants transported this practice to the United States. The table altars, long orchestrated by women, are erected as an expression of gratitude or in fulfillment of a vow made to St. Joseph. They were originally constructed in private homes before expanding into churches and community centers. Because the tables are blessed, they are considered an intersection between the sacred and the profane. St. Joseph feast day celebrations typically include a large community meal at which all are welcomed and charity is extended to those in need.

This exhibition traces the history of the St. Joseph’s Tables and showcases the contemporary manifestations of this tradition in communities across the United States, including Iowa, New York, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California, among other locations.

The focal point of St. Joseph’s Tables: Expressions of Devotion, Charity, and Abundance is an elaborate, three-tiered altar, which occupies over 100 square feet of floor space and contains hundreds of items that carry symbolic and historical meaning. Large, handmade, ornate pictographic breads, some of which weigh upwards of ten pounds, will be exhibited along with traditional foods and artifacts.

To create this exhibition, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles contacted various diasporic communities and issued a call for items, to which individuals and organizations around the country responded, offering images, recipes, traditional breads, cookies, and other items.

“This exhibition offers an intimate look at a much-revered ritual that for many Italian Americans, exists at the very heart of our cultural identity,” says Marianna Gatto, executive director of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, and exhibition curator. “ The contributions we received from communities nationwide offer a powerful testament to the importance of this living tradition and the extent to which diverse groups, not solely Italian Americans, have adopted it as a way to provide for the less fortunate. The exhibition serves as a vehicle for experiencing and preserving this cultural practice and the themes central to St. Joseph’s Tables that are highly relevant to our times - charity and community.”

St. Joseph’s Tables: Expressions of Devotion, Charity, and Abundance. On view March 6 - May 17, 2020. Hours : Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Closed Mondays. Address: 644 North Main Street (corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue) Los Angeles, 90012. Tel. (213) 485-8432. www.IAMLA.org Directions: Take the Metro Red Line, Gold Line, or Purple Line to Union Station/Gateway Transit Center. Exit the station and walk across N. Alameda Street to El Pueblo Historical Monument. Continue west to Main Street, then walk North one block to Cesar Chavez.

The IAMLA is located near the 101 and 110 freeway intersection. Admission: Free. Donations encouraged. Parking :There are several parking options in the area. Lot 1 - 419 N. Main Street. Lot 2 - 615 N. Main Street. Lot 3 - 852 N. Alameda Street

The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) is a 21st-century interactive museum that documents the history and contributions of Italian Americans in Southern California and the nation, and showcases a seldom examined chapter of the Italian diaspora. The IAMLA features exhibitions and a variety of cultural educational programming and it is collaboratively operated with the City of Los Angeles. The museum is located in the Italian Hall, which was constructed in 1908 to serve as a community gathering place. Today, the Italian Hall is among t he oldest remaining structures from Los Angeles' historic Little Italy and is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places. The IAMLA is a 501(c)3 charitable organization.

Related Event: Food and Ritual Performance- St. Joseph’s Day Tables and Feeding of the Needy in Los Angeles. A lecture by Luisa Del Giudice, Ph.D. April 2, 2020 6 pm. A lecture by Luisa DelGiudice, Ph.D, will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition. Food and Ritual Performance: St. Joseph’s Day Tables and Feeding the Needy in Los Angeles explores the St. Joseph's Table within its historical Sicilian context as well as the
local Italian diaspora context. It especially focuses on its evolving meanings within Los Angeles-based public programs addressing food justice, migration, and communal tables.

SOURCE: Italian American Museum of Los Angeles

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