If You Build it, They Will Come–to the Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery

TRAER, Iowa  --  Several years ago, retired newspaper editor Ellen Young began to look for ways to promote her town of Traer. It was known for its winding spiral staircase in front of a downtown building, which was good for a quick photo-op and the name of the community festival. Still, Young thought the town needed more.

“I went to a seminar in Des Moines, the speaker was talking about ways you could attract people to your community,” said Young. “He said you could capitalize on what you have.”

So Young began thinking about how an unbelievable collection of salt and pepper shakers could be something to attract people. She approached the collector, Ruth Rasmussen, and after about three years, some work with the city council, and  grant applications, her idea became a reality.

In 2011, the Traer Salt and Pepper Shaker Gallery opened. The city acquired and remodeled a building to house the collection, which Rasmussen donated.

“Some of the shakers in here are the Circus Shakers, the Zoo Shaker, and the Nursery Rhyme and Comic Book and Storybook Shakers,” said Young. “Just to give you an idea of the numbers we worked with, over here in this particular cabinet there are 319 pairs of dog shakers. Most people, if they had 300 pairs of shakers they would think they had a big collection, but for Ruth that was just her dogs.”

Ruth Rasmussen started her collection in 1946, with a single pair of salt and pepper shakers purchased at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Since an article was published on Rasmussen’s collection in a Chicago newspaper, she has been contacted by the Brookfield Zoo, which wanted photos of her 1946 shakers to add to its archives.

“I just kept going. When I go places, I just pick them up,” said 94-year-old Rasmussen, who is a frequent gallery visitor. “I had two buildings in the backyard and one bedroom.”

“We get close to 1,000 visitors a year and we think that’s pretty good because that’s 1,000 people who I’ve turned down on Main Street,” said Young. “They have come here and visited us, and they’ve also stopped in our restaurants, they shopped in our stores, and we’re looking forward to more of that, of course.”

Bus tours also frequently stop by the gallery.

“I like to talk to people when they come in here by busloads, they all are so nice and friendly,” said Rasmussen. “They think I’m famous, but I’m not, I’m just a regular me.”

For more on the Traer Salt and Pepper Gallery, click here.