Pieces of History

Decorative Arts of the Gulf South

January 21 through April 10, 2022

On view in the Atrium, Blackmon, Goldman, Richard, Rushton Stakely, and Weil Galleries


In the early 19th century, the American South was the destination for the earliest settlers who ventured from the Eastern seaboard to what was then considered to be “the west” to find land and opportunity.  Some came by choice—seeking new business opportunities, to establish homes and families—others were brought with them, without choice, as property.  But each of them left their marks in the land and in the culture of the Gulf South.

Pieces of History tells the story of these people and what they moved with them, purchased, made, and used while they made homes and lives.  What we today call “decorative arts” or “material culture” convey their legacies, in many ways speaking more eloquently than the rare written words which survive the centuries.  Their domestic furnishings, whether elegant or humble, speak to the routines of daily life and bring places distant in time back into focus.  Many objects are familiar and have counterparts in our own lives, while others have lost their usefulness or significance in modern societies. 

The exhibition will recreate spaces that were found in homes of the 19th-century Gulf South with furnishings that would have been used there.  In the homes of the wealthy, these furnishings were often shipped great distances, from Eastern seaboard cities such as Boston or Philadelphia, through the ports of Mobile or New Orleans, making their way by ship over sea and river to rooms in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana.  In other cases, furnishings locally crafted sought to mimic the styles of these imported pieces with more rudimentary craftsmanship.

The exhibition was organized by the staff and fellows of the Decorative Arts of the Gulf South Project housed at the Historic New Orleans Collection, which researches and maintains records of decorative arts found in the early 19th-century Gulf South.  In Montgomery, the show is expanded to include loans of furnishings and materials from Alabama’s Black Belt and the central Alabama region from the collections of the Landmarks Foundation of Montgomery, the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and private lenders.


Above: Mallory and Welch Families, Mount Ida Wedding Quilt (detail), 1851, cotton, Lent by the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama, ADAH86.1457.1

What we today call “decorative arts” or “material culture” convey the legacies of the earliest settlers of the American South, in many ways speaking more eloquently than the rare written words which survive the centuries.


Exhibition organized by The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA.


Support for this exhibition was provided by lead sponsor Alabama Power Foundation with additional support from sponsors Mr. Will Hill Tankersley and Dr. Kristin Tankersley and co-sponsors AmeriFirst Bank; Balch & Bingham, LLP; and Valley Bank.

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