More than 50 pieces of early Louisiana furniture showcase the blending of Caribbean, Canadian, Anglo and European influences into what The New York Times called “a signature Louisiana style.”
Produced as a companion to THNOC’s award-winning publication “Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835” (December 2010), the exhibition brings the book to life. Co-curators Sarah Doerries, Jessica Dorman and John H. Lawrence, all members of THNOC staff, gathered pieces from nearly two dozen collections across the country to tell this unique and captivating story.
“The response to our requests to borrow items was overwhelmingly positive,” said Doerries, who edited the recent book prior to working on the exhibition. “Most of the objects in the exhibition are used in real people’s homes, in real people’s daily lives, just as they have been for more than a century. Yet owners’ willingness to share these objects with the public demonstrates their passion for preserving and celebrating this aspect of our culture.”
The exhibition’s 12 galleries feature exquisite Creole furniture along with rustic Acadian furniture. Several stunning armoires — possibly the most significant furniture form in the French colonies — are on display, in addition to high-post beds, chests, tables, footstools and even a child’s cradle. One of the oldest documented pieces of Louisiana furniture, a refectory table from the Ursuline convent, is also included.
“These items are testament to the artistic impulse that enlivens Louisiana’s history,” said Dorman, who also edited the book in her role as director of publications. “Floods, fires and centuries of unrelenting heat and humidity have taken their toll on our region’s early material culture. The fact that this furniture has survived is inspirational and speaks volumes to the craftsmen’s knowledge and understanding of their resources.”
One of the exhibition’s most noteworthy loans is a New Orleans-made Campeche chair from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. Jefferson appreciated the comfort of the curved-leg chair, and his advocacy helped popularize the form outside of Louisiana.
“Understanding how these pieces were crafted, from rough wood to final polish, is essential to fostering an appreciation of Louisiana furniture,” said John H. Lawrence, director of museum programs. “The introductory portion of the exhibition helps prepare visitors for the finished pieces and exposes the visitor to other potential sources of discovery, both printed and online.”
The opening galleries provide visitors with a hands-on, interactive experience. Typical tools, seat treatments, hardware and wood samples are on display, as well as deconstructed pieces of furniture.
Visitors can compare the feel of different wood finishes, handle sample construction joints and sit in several reproduction chairs, including the famous Campeche.
“Furnishing Louisiana,” the exhibition, is free and open to the public and will be on view now through June 17.
Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The companion book retails for $95 and is available at The Shop at The Collection, independent book sellers and Amazon.com.
For more information, visit www.hnoc.org or call 504-523-4662.