The welcome mat is out at two area museums teaming up to go home — your home.
The West Baton Rouge Museum is taking a close look at “home” through the National Building Museum’s traveling show, “House & Home.” Louisiana’s Old State Capitol expands the story with the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit, “Patios, Pools & the Invention of the American Backyard.”
Each explores the American concept of home and how that concept has changed through the years, beginning with the colonial years at West Baton Rouge, and the years following World War II at the Old Capitol.
The idea to link the two shows began with Lauren Davis, who scheduled the “House & Home” exhibit while she was curator at the West Baton Rouge Museum. She accepted a job as the curator for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Museum Division in June 2014 and started searching for a show to complement the exhibit at her former workplace.
“We give Lauren credit for all of this,” says Angelique Bergeron, the West Baton Rouge Museum’s curator. “She put both exhibits together, and we thought it would be a great idea to link them.”
The two museums, while separated by the Mississippi River, are only minutes apart.
The West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen begins its conversation with a question: “What makes a house a home?”
“The show looks at everything, from the things that are found in homes to the building materials used to construct them,” Bergeron says. “It also has some cool interactive parts along the way.”
The Old State Capitol goes into the backyard, the home’s personal oasis, looking not only at the way people personalize this space but asking questions about isolation.
“There was a time when people used to sit on their front porches and interacted with each other,” Davis says. “But did they lose this kind of socializing when they moved to the backyard? Suddenly, it was a case of, ‘You can come here if I invite you,’ whereas in the front yard people would walk over and talk to each other.”
“House & Home” runs through Sunday, Oct. 18, and fills the museum’s exhibition gallery with featured films, examples of construction materials, domestic artifacts and photographs showing how transformation, technology, government policy and consumer culture have impacted American life.
Visitors can meander through wooden structures leading from one section to another, one focusing on the Musicians Village spearheaded by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward. The duo partnered with Habitat for Humanity in the construction of these houses for musicians who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
And the only requirement?
“You’ll learn through the film that musicians were only required to help,” Bergeron says. “They made any contribution that they were able to make.”
Back at the Old Capitol, the Smithsonian’s exhibit panels are enhanced by backyard photographs loaned by area residents and 1950s backyard fashion on loan from the LSU Textile and Costume Museum. This show runs through Saturday, Nov. 28, and includes a Decorated Pink Lawn Flamingo Contest.
“The fabulous flamingo was invented in 1957 and became a big part of lawn and garden decoration,” Davis says. “We asked local residents to decorate their own plastic flamingos, and we’ve placed them throughout the exhibit. We’re asking visitors to vote on their favorite flamingo while the exhibit is up.”
And outside the exhibit gallery, Education/Volunteer Coordinator Caroline Kennedy has set up a table with crayons and a worksheet asking children to create a picture of what they would like to see in the Old Capitol’s backyard.
“We’re calling it Louisiana’s Backyard,” Kennedy says “We already have one response from one child who wants to see a wild flamingo parade, a statue of ‘me’ and a practice field for the LSU football team.”
Plans are being made for a few backyard activities, including a Croquet Day on Saturday, Oct. 10.
“GIs were returning from World War II and starting families,” Davis says. “There was a spirit of new consumerism and optimism. The backyard was private, where you could make your mark, and this is where the idea of ‘DIY’ projects began. DIY magazines were published, people designed their own backyards then showed it off with get-togethers. It changed everything.”