Exploring chocolate channels

Mariposa Museum: New exhibit pairs Roald Dahl with the cultures that support the chocolate industry

The Mariposa is mixing a world of pure imagination with the real world with their new exhibit, the “World of Chocolate.”

The exhibit has two sides — one that will pair with the Roald Dahl Literary Estate to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and another that explores the impact that chocolate has in the countries that grow and export it.

In a recent interview at the Mariposa Museum, Executive Director Karla Hostetler said that the museum had been looking to pair with the Roald Dahl Literary Estate on a project for some time, and when it hit upon the idea of exploring the culture of chocolate, the idea fell together perfectly.

Chocolate is something almost every child knows and understands, said Hostetler, but most don’t know anything about the cultures in which it’s produced. The exhibit will be a way to introduce that culture through a single, concrete idea. And because cacao is grown in many diverse cultures, it gives the museum the opportunity to give a brief overview of several different countries.

Displays on the Dahl side of the exhibit will explore the role that the chocolate industry had on Dahl’s writing, particularly of his writing of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Some of the highlights are early drafts of Dahl’s “Charlie” manuscript, a vintage candy shop styled after shops in Dahl’s boyhood era, and an interactive Wonka Inventing room where children can experiment with chocolate. It will also look at some of the real-life inspirations that Dahl drew from in writing “Charlie” — most notably the Cadbury company, and its rivalry with Rowntree, England’s two largest chocolate makers of the time. The display will be designed by the Dahl Estate.

The Mariposa will be coordinating the multi-cultural half of the exhibit, starting with the origins of cacao in ancient Mexico, the discovery of it by Europeans and how chocolate expanded from a treat affordable only to the upper class into a world-wide industry. Exhibits show where cacao is grown, and how chocolate is made.

And although chocolate seems to be a light-hearted subject, the museum isn’t shying away from some of the darker implications of the world chocolate industry, said Hostetler. Although much of the exhibit does tap into that same childish wonder that caused Dahl to write “Charlie” in the first place, the world of chocolate does come with consequences, such as the discovery of Caribbean sugar and the slavery used to harvest it, to more modern concerns such as the recent revelations of modern-day child slavery on cocoa farms and sugar plantations.

Hostetler said the museum wants children to understand the complexities of industry.

“We want to show the good and the bad. There are a lot of secret rooms in the chocolate industry that are not so easy to access,” said Hostetler.

And while it’s good to bring up these issues and make sure they are discussed, the exhibit also talks about the innovative ways some chocolate makers are working with cacao growers and addressing these issues.

“We’ll be talking about how to balance the industry needs with the concerns that come with it.”

The exhibit will be open through Jan. 31. Admission to the museum is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children, and free for members. For more information, call 924-4555 or visit

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or

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