Open since 1939, and host to approximately 150,000 visitors in a normal year, the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum is a wonderful place to take the family on an educational expedition. The museum’s circular floor plan boasts four “Quadrants”, each addressing an aspect of Louisiana’s industries.
As has been the case throughout my peregrinations across our state, the museums’ staffs are by far its best feature! You will not meet a group of more knowledgeable and enthusiastic people. They love their jobs, and are superb ambassadors for our state.
Curator and archivist Nita Cole took me on a tour of the museum and its displays. One of the more remarkable things about the museum is the building itself. Building started in 1937 and was completed in 1939. The Art Deco style building features marble, oak, limestone and Texas granite from the Trinity River area. The museum was funded by the Works Progress Administration and was one of the most expensive projects undertaken in the state. The museum is a unique structure that attracts architecture and art students from across the country and the world.
The original building was erected before air conditioning was common yet remains at a cool temperature despite the summer heat. This is due to an extensive basement underneath the museum with vents to circulate cooler air throughout the building. Combined with the limestone exterior, the basement vents keep the building cool and provide a consistent atmosphere to preserve the displays.
The front of the museum features murals painted by renowned artist Conrad Albrizio in 1938. Originally from New York, Albrizio taught art at LSU, establishing the first Art department at an A&M college. Visitors to the LSU campus can see more of his and his students’ artwork in the murals in Allen Hall.
The dioramas of Louisiana’s economic life in the 1930’s found throughout the building have a much deeper backstory than is initially apparent. Since one of the purposes of the WPA was to provide employment during the Great Depression, hundreds of high school students were employed to craft the figures in the dioramas. The figures were made from beeswax that was poured into plaster molds. Their clothes are actual cloth that was hand dyed. The effect is amazingly realistic, even after 80 years.
Students of Louisiana’s prehistoric past will find much to see at the Louisiana State Exhibit. The museum hosts an incredible collection, the largest in the state, of Native American Artifacts. There is a dugout canoe dated from approximately 1000 A.D. from the Caddo Culture among other artifacts. It is the largest archeological collection of its kind in the state and a fascinating look into the world of Louisiana’s earliest inhabitants.
Of course, one of the nicer aspects of any museum visit is the lagniappe, things that don’t exactly fit into the museum’s main focus. Shreveport once boasted an automobile manufacturer, the Louisiana Motor Car Company. They made the Bour-Davis car. The one in the museum was restored from parts dated 1918-1921 and is believed to be the only complete Bour-Davis car in existence. The car still has its distinctive original bright blue paint job. The car is a true treasure and a reminder of a different world not far removed from our own.
There are portraits, including one of a tailor that used to hang in the Shreveport’s old Selber’s department store, artifacts from the Battle of New Orleans and the Reconstruction era. The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum is a delightful place to spend the day with the family. One last piece of Lagniappe, the museum was featured in the 2008 Hit Movie “Mad Money”, starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes. The museum’s imposing architecture made it an ideal stand-in for the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank where the trio was to steal currency before it was to be shredded.
The Museum is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday and is free to the public. It is located on the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Shreveport.
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