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New Exhibition Examines Louisiana’s Natural History and its First Explorers

 For Immediate Release
Media Contacts:
Lauren Noel
The Historic New Orleans Collection
(504) 556-7655 |
Vicki Voelker
Gambel Communications
(504) 324-4242 |


New Exhibition Examines Louisiana's Natural History and its First Explorers
Display to include works by Audubon, lavishly illustrated folios and plant and animal specimens

February 2013 | New Orleans, LA - The Historic New Orleans Collection relives the romance and mystery of Louisiana's early scientific expeditions with its latest exhibition, "Seeking the Unknown: Natural History Observations in Louisiana, 1698-1840." Opening Saturday, Feb. 23, at 533 Royal St., the free exhibition will be available to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Louisiana's lush and distinctive environment has long played into the state's identity, evidenced by monikers like "the Sportsman's Paradise," "the Bayou State" and "the Pelican state." Records from some of the first explorers prove that the area's flora, fauna and native people were compelling centuries ago. The new exhibition draws on reports from early European explorers, their accounts kicking off a flurry of interest in the New World's environment that lasted well into the 19th century. Scientific curiosity-in addition to economic potential and romantic notions-motivated the brave men and women who tackled the strange terrain and its sometimes harsh climate.

"The curious nature of many of the naturalists and explorers of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries is something that never goes out of fashion. Regardless of the era or the field, curiosity drives discovery," said John H. Lawrence, director of museum programs at THNOC and exhibition co-curator. "This exhibition will give visitors a better understanding of what early explorers and scientists saw in Louisiana's forests, swamps, rivers and shores."
Lawrence and fellow co-curator Gilles-Antoine Langlois of the National School of Architecture at Versailles, University Paris-Est Créteil, chose objects that provide a broad historical background for early observations of the Louisiana landscape. The display comprises selections from THNOC's holdings plus loaned items from several institutions in the state and four French archives. Together, these pieces spotlight particular individuals whose work was influential in recording the natural history of Louisiana.

"With rare exception, the often groundbreaking work of these men was, during their lifetime, known to a relatively small audience," Langlois wrote in his essay for the exhibition catalogue. "They were unacknowledged collectors of scientific treasures, operating in the shadows, suffering fevers and other unimaginable hardships, rarely receiving widespread recognition or other acclaim. This exhibition finally brings some of their previously invisible work to light."
Items on display include centuries-old plant and animal specimens-including a bobcat, a cougar and a Mississippi map turtle-collected by various explorers and scientists. The exhibition even features several reptile specimens in jars that were collected in the 1830s. Detailed drawings, watercolors and illustrated folios-including several by John James Audubon-are also part of the display.

"It's pretty amazing to see examples of plants and animals that were collected in Louisiana hundreds of years ago," Lawrence said. "Many of them seem so commonplace to us today-a brown pelican, an alligator gar, Spanish moss-but just imagine seeing something like that for the first time. That's what this exhibition is about."


Related programming:

18th annual Williams Research Center Symposium
"Seeking the Unknown: Perspectives on Louisiana's Natural History"
February 23, 2013
Registration: 8-8:30 a.m.
Sessions: 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m.
Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal St.
Registration is required. See below for information.

The Historic New Orleans Collection's 18th annual Williams Research Center Symposium, "Seeking the Unknown: Perspectives on Louisiana's Natural History," coincides with the opening of the related exhibition. Seats are still available for the day-long event, which will examine topics from pre-colonial American Indians to modern naturalists. Registration is required, and rates range between $40 and $85. Registration covers the full-day of presentations with 10 experts plus two receptions-an exhibition preview on Friday, Feb. 22, and a post-event reception on Saturday afternoon. Participants will also have the option to register for a special prix-fixe lunch at Criollo Restaurant and Lounge, located inside the Hotel Monteleone. Visit or call (504) 523-4662 for more information and to register.
The Collection thanks the sponsors of the 2013 Williams Research Center Symposium: ClearBridge Advisors, A Legg Mason Company; the Consulate General of Canada; Hotel Monteleone; LaPorte, CPAs and Business Advisors; Premium Parking; Solaris Garage; and Villere & Co.

About The Historic New Orleans Collection
Founded in 1966, 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 and the Gulf South region. For more information, visit or call (504) 523-4662.

Editor's Note:
Images pertaining to this exhibition and the related programming are available to members of the media. Contact Lauren Noel at or (504) 556-7655 to make a request.