Everybody looks forward to getting out of the kitchen once in a while.

One way to take a break is a visit to the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in downtown Sonoma, but be forewarned: The kitchen has found its way into the museum.

Fortunately, the museum's newest exhibit, "Kitchen Memories," opening Saturday (Sept. 7), won't require any work on your part. The exhibit features vintage kitchen utensils, recipes, restaurant menus, food labels and more from the private collection of Sonoma food and travel writer Kathleen Thompson Hill.

"Kathleen is a beloved figure in the community, known for her writing," said Kate Eilertsen, the museum's executive director. "And she has amassed all of these historical culinary tools."

Hill, who writes a column for the twice-weekly Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper, has spent decades acquiring everything from 200-year-old English cheese graters to colorfully decorated cracker tins.

"I have 80 or 90 eggbeaters," Hill said. "I have one from 1886, made of glass, with a little metal whirligig on it."

There's a glass butter churn, a 1920 Sunbeam Mixmaster and a Betty Furness oven thermometer, named for the iconic 1950s actress, model and Westinghouse appliance pitchwoman.

"I spent a year researching every item," Hill said. "They'll all be labeled and catalogued, but I'm also going to have a 'What Is It?' section."

Visitors to the exhibit will be challenged to guess just what the mystery kitchen gadgets in that section were designed to do.

If this show seems a radical departure for an art museum exhibit, it helps to understand the adventurous attitude of the leadership at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

"We have tried to do a wide variety of shows. A fundamental belief of mine is that art is not just a pretty picture hanging on a wall," said the museum's executive director, Kate Eilertsen.

"Our goal for this show is to encourage people to think back," she said, "and remember their grandmother's potato masher, or the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in her kitchen."

Hill said that as she assembled the exhibit, she saw that her collection mirrored the cultural and technological history of the country, in both big and small ways.

For example, as more women began working outside the home, the demand for time-saving appliances and gadgets at home grew dramatically.

And on a smaller scale, the introduction of sliced bread led to the modern toaster, Hill said.

The exhibit also demonstrates how much labor and effort it took to make meals at home a couple centuries ago, or even a few decades go. In times past, the home cook got along without modern conveniences, and got a workout in the kitchen.

"What fascinates is what life was like when these things were being made," Hill said. "Our grandmothers didn't have to go the gym."

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>