New THNOC Exhibit Explores Decorative Arts from the Southern Gulf


NEW ORLEANS (press release) – For 10 years, Classical Institute of the South (CIS) summer scholars have traveled Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to examine, research and record decorative arts objects held in private collections. To mark the first decade of this intrepid quest into everyday history, the Historical Collection of New Orleans (THNOC) – which has managed CEI initiatives since 2015 – will showcase the furniture, furnishings and tools of everyday life cataloged by the program’s emerging scholars in the free exhibition“Pieces of History: Ten Years of Decorative Arts Field”, from April 16 to September 5, 2021, at 520 Royal Street.

The material culture objects displayed and explored through photos and text panels in the exhibit were made or used in the southern Gulf prior to 1865. Details uncovered during fieldwork provide a picture of the privacy , social and economic of the inhabitants of our region.

“For some of the objects on display, this is the first time they have left their homes in over 150 years,” said Lydia Blackmore, curator of decorative arts, co-curator of the exhibition and herself a former scholarship recipient. ‘summer. “These objects show the importance of provenance in our research, with documented histories dating back to their original purchase.”

The voices of former summer fellows animate the exhibit in “Field Story” text panels, sharing favorite objects, research links, or unique experiences from their work in the field. The stories are accompanied by photographs of objects and fellows doing the hard work of the story. “I hope seeing these images and reading these stories will inspire other young historians and students of history to get into the field, Blackmore said.

The exhibition also signals a new name for the summer program. Earlier this year, the Southern Classical Institute was renamed Decorative Arts of the Southern Gulf, or DAGS, in an effort to clarify its mission and expand its reach to scholars and the general public. The program was founded in 2011 by New Orleans lawyer and avid antique collector Paul Haygood (1943-2015). THNOC became its permanent headquarters in 2015, ensuring the continuation of Haygood’s initiative, a key part of which is an online database to make the history of the decorative arts of the Southern Gulf accessible to researchers from all over the world.

“The DAGS database is part of the Louisiana Digital Library, a free online consortium of research resources,” said Sarah Duggan, DAGS coordinator, research curator, and co-curator of “Pieces of History.” “Unlike a formal book publication, the database is a living document that we can update as new information emerges. The information and photographs that field teams collect are like raw material for the story, full of potential for deeper dives into family and local history. Since the DAGS database is a purely virtual collection, it can be difficult to grasp the extent of the information available. The exhibit will help visitors visualize the range of decorative and artisanal details that DAGS has documented over the years. Loan objects bring this artistic texture to life, and their large scale in the gallery makes a dramatic impression.

Throughout the exhibition, the role played by slaves in the creation of the exhibits is underlined.

“The exhibit has two purposes,” Blackmore said. “First, to explain what DAGS is, how we do decorative arts fieldwork, and the importance of continued research into the material culture of the southern Gulf. The second objective is to contextualize the findings of DAGS in the larger story of the southern Gulf. These often beautiful objects are pieces of a darker story, based on the profits of bonded labor. We have ensured that the role of bonded labor is represented throughout the exhibition.

The New Orleans Historical Collection thanks exhibit sponsors Nell H. and Fredric J. Figge and Mrs. Frank W. Masson.

Visitors can view “Pieces of History” Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free and THNOC’s COVID-19 safety protocols — face masks, timed ticketing and limited gallery capacity to ensure social distancing — will be in place. It is recommended to book in advance on


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