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Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735 to 1835 Hardcover – December 22, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Exploring the Art of Louisiana Furniture

Louisiana cabinetmakers under Napoleonic rule earned job titles as elite as ebeniste and doreur, building and gilding furniture for plantation owners. The artisans ranks included slaves, free men of color and immigrants from Germany and the Caribbean. But they developed a signature Louisiana style.

They inlaid blond swags and customers initials on cypress armoires and modeled sling-back mahogany porch chairs after thrones that Spanish conquistadors had brought to Mexico. On cherrywood bedsteads with tapered posts eight feet tall they attached iron rods for drapes of mosquito netting, essential during Louisiana summers.

The Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum and research center, has published the first major study of the woodworkers' products, Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835. The main authors, the historians Jack D. Holden, H. Parrott Bacot and Cybele T. Gontar, took road trips to study objects in about 40 institutions and 80 private homes.

The topic had long been ignored, partly because of some Northern bias among decorative arts scholars. 'In 1949, Joseph Downs, then curator of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, infamously stated that 'little of artistic merit was made south of Baltimore,' ' John T. Magill, a curator at Historic New Orleans, writes in the book's introduction.

A decade ago, the Met at last acquired a piece of early 1800s Louisiana furniture: a mahogany armchair with checkerboard inlay that is now tucked into a shadowy corner of the American Wing's mezzanine.

The new study covers tables and chairs with elaborately flared and turned legs, and necessities as humble as corn-shuck brooms and painted wood washstands. The text explains how the pieces served their original owners. Ursuline nuns stored their meager possessions in boxy cypress dressers. An armchair with a Spanish Hapsburg eagle embossed on the leather was a favorite lounging spot for James Madison during his retirement in Virginia.

The artisans designed and reinforced their wares to endure 'the vicissitudes of hurricanes, floods, war and changes in fashion,' the authors write. An 1820s cypress armoire 'survived the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, leaving a distinct watermark more than halfway up the door panels.'

The book reports on provenances as well. In 2003, at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans, an 1810s mahogany armoire inlaid with ribbons and vines brought $140,000 (the presale estimate was $30,000 to $50,000). The piece, which had been displayed for decades at an 1820s plantation, was made by a prolific cabinetmaker whose name is not yet known. Scholars call him the Butterfly Man, because he joined wood slabs with pointy pegs that look like butterfly wings.

Next year, Historic New Orleans will organize an exhibition and an online database of Louisiana furniture. The show will probably not travel, said Jessica Dorman, the center s director of publications, given the unwieldy size and heft of the antiques and the reluctance of owners to part with them for long.

--Eve M. Kahn, December 9, 2010 --The New York Times

About the Author

H. Parrott Bacot, professor emeritus of art history at Louisiana State University, served as the curator/director of the university s art museum for thirty-three years. There he amassed significant collections of Louisiana fine and decorative arts. He has authored or coauthored numerous exhibition catalogues, articles for learned journals, and three books. Bacot has lectured at a majority of the antiques forums in America, including those of Colonial Williamsburg and the Henry Ford Museum. He has served as an interiors consultant for a number of public and private historic houses.

Brian J. Costello, an eleventh-generation Louisianian, is a graduate of Louisiana State University in history and English. He is the author of nineteen books and has participated in several documentaries and forums on Louisiana history, culture, genealogy, linguistics, Carnival, and flood control. He is the founding and current archivist of the Pointe Coupee Parish Library Historical Materials Collection.

Sarah Doerries earned an MFA in poetry at Louisiana State University, where she was editorial assistant at the Southern Review. She was an assistant dean and taught creative writing at Tulane University before becoming books editor at The Historic New Orleans Collection. Her poetry and reviews have been published in several literary magazines.

Jessica Dorman is director of publications at The Historic New Orleans Collection. She earned her PhD in the history of American Civilization from Harvard University and has taught American Studies at Trinity College (Hartford) and Penn State Harrisburg.

Cybele Trione Gontar is adjunct professor of art history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. A PhD candidate in American art at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and a graduate of the Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt master s degree program in the history of decorative arts, she is a contributing author to the New Orleans Museum of Art collection handbook and has published numerous articles on nineteenth-century decorative and fine arts. Jack D. Holden, M.D., is a retired pathologist and collector of Louisiana material culture. He graduated from Louisiana State University medical school. Dr. Holden has published several articles on Louisiana furniture and architecture and was a primary participant in the 1976 bicentennial exhibition of Louisiana furniture in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Francis J. Puig, born in Cuba, immigrated to the United States in 1960. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also received an MA in museum curatorship, Puig attended Yale for graduate work in American Studies. He was curator of decorative arts at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and organized the 1989 exhibition The American Craftsman and the European Tradition, 1620 1820. More recently he was responsible for restoration plans for the Cà d Zan, John and Mable Ringling s home in Sarasota, Florida.

The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans, the lower Mississippi Valley, and Gulf South. The Collection is operated by the Kemper and Leila Williams Foundation, a Louisiana nonprofit corporation.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 552 pages
  • Publisher: The Historic New Orleans Collection; First edition (December 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 091786056X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0917860560
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,065,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Charles Chapoton on January 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For more than forty years, I have watched my sister Pat and her husband Jack Holden acquire early Louisiana artifacts. Fabrics, chairs, houses, armoires, tables, paintings, silverware, beds, outbuildings, dinnerware, cabinets, ironing boards, . . . They live in a restored early Louisiana house, and use the artifacts they have collected as household items. In the process of acquiring and using their collection, they have developed expertise in the history of the architecture and artifacts of Louisiana prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. For the last twenty years or so, I have heard constantly of 'The Book'. Jack developed a passion to document the craftsmanship of early Louisiana, particularly the furniture. Along with Pat Bacot, several other co-authors and a host of others, Jack has finished 'The Book'. The Historic New Orleans Collection has published 'The Book': Furnishing Louisiana.

The heart of Furnishing Louisiana is a Catalogue of more than four hundred early Louisiana artifacts; Creole, Acadian, items from the Upper Mississippi Valley and some items imported from the West Indies and Mexico. More than a hundred public and private collections are represented. The Catalogue chapters include: (8) The Louisiana Armoire, (9) Melange: Case Pieces, Desks and Clocks, (10) The Louisiana Table, (11) The Louisiana Chair, (12) The Campeche Chair in Louisiana, (13) The Louisiana Bedstead, (14) Utilitarian Objects, and (15) Creole Furniture from the Upper Valley of Louisiana. Prefacing each chapter is a discussion of the chapter's focus, giving background on the history of the development of the items and the culture of the times.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By pwall on February 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have collected antiques for over 30 years but nothing as unique and beautiful as the pieces meticulously photographed and described in this book. If you like antiques, if you are from Louisiana, if you love and accept the good and the bad of Louisiana history and culture, you should have this book on your coffee table or in your book case. And you should leave it to your children.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Childs on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an enormous, definitive volume on Creole/ Acadian furniture by the authorities of the styles. It is a beautiful production with exhaustive, fascinating documentation and excellent illustrations. Absolutely fascinating!!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By gi on March 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who wants to understand Louisiana culture would be well advised to start with this extraordinary, sumptuously photographed, and meticulously researched book on the state's early furniture tradition. Nothing like it exists. A non-English reader could learn a lot about Louisiana culture from the photographs alone, so fine are they and so carefully and thoughtfully are they organized.

Mr. Chapaton's review (above) contains an admirable, detailed description of "Furnishing Louisiana." It indicates the almost stunning breadth and completeness of the authors' undertaking and convinced me to place my order.

Yet it did not prepare me for the full power of this book. That power lies in the rare combination of fine photography, deep scholarship, and sensitive layout. For instance, the Catalogue, which I think forms the heart of "Furnishing Louisiana," contains a large photograph of each piece as well as smaller photographs of noteworthy details. Most are set against white-space backgrounds. Preceding the photograph is a brief description of the significance and history, followed by a kind of check-list summary that makes review and reference easy. Dimensions, materials, provenance, conservation, collection, and owner appear in this list. Such a perfect marriage of information and photography is rare in books of this sort, even those with folio-size pages.

The authors' and editor's decision to divide the main portion of the Catalogue by types of furnishings is also important and permits the reader to appreciate major features as well as fine distinctions in the collection. Imagine an entire section of beautifully photographed armoires! Imagine being able to compare woodgrains, skirts, stiles, panel construction!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By peggy s. laborde on April 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We are so fortunate to have an institution such as The Historic New Orleans Collection take on such a task as compiling the first ever comprehensive look at Louisiana Furniture. Thank you HNOC!
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