In commemoration of the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018, The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) will provide a multifaceted exploration of the city’s first few decades and its earliest inhabitants with New Orleans, the Founding Era, an original exhibition and bilingual companion catalog.
Opening February 27, 2018, and sponsored by Whitney Bank, New Orleans, the Founding Era will bring together a vast array of rare artifacts from THNOC’s holdings and from institutions across Europe and North America to tell the stories of the city’s early days, when the city consisted of little more than hastily assembled huts and buildings.
Beginning with the region’s Native American tribes, through the waves of European arrival and the forced migration of enslaved African people, the exhibition will reflect on the complicated and often conflicted meanings the settlement’s development held for individuals, empires and indigenous nations. The display will feature works on paper, ethnographic and archaeological artifacts, scientific and religious instruments, paintings, maps and charts, manuscripts and rare books. These original objects will be complemented by large-scale reproductions and interactive items.
More than 75 objects will be on loan from organizations in Spain, France, Canada and around the United States. A number of items, like a pair of 18th-century Native American bear-paw moccasins from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris and pieces of 15th-century Mississippian pottery from the University of Mississippi, have rarely traveled beyond their home institutions. Digital interactives will include a gallery of photographs from archaeological digs at a variety of French Quarter sites, a game quizzing visitors on supplies needed for a new home in the settlement and a 1731 inventory of enslaved Africans and African-descended people living on a West Bank plantation.
In addition, the companion catalog — a bilingual edition, in both English and French — will feature essays describing the different populations who inhabited precolonial New Orleans and the surrounding areas, as well as the forces driving the settlement’s growth. Essayists include exhibition curator Erin M. Greenwald and historians Emily Clark, Shannon Lee Dawdy, Robbie Ethridge, Gilles-Antoine Langlois, Yevan Terrien, Daniel Usner and Cécile Vidal. Gérard Araud, ambassador of France to the United States, contributed the book’s foreword.