NOMA’s Mel Buchanan takes us on a tour of five must-see destinations and items in the museum’s decorative arts collection. Here are her picks:

Parlor from the Greenwood Plantation (St. Francisville), 1852-61

First floor, Ella West Freeman Gallery

“This parlor interior is one of the best-preserved pre-Civil War rooms you’ll ever see. Every curtain tassel, upholstery trim and even the wall-to-wall carpet is original. But what makes it exceptional is the documentation: There are receipts for all the purchases, giving us dates, retailers and prices. The letters tell a fascinating story of a Southern slave-owning plantation mistress Harriet Flower Mathews purchasing a suite of furniture from a Northern retailer literally the day before Louisiana secedes from the Union.”

Campeche chair, circa 1820-30

First floor, Ella West Freeman Gallery (in the “Louisiana Parlor” exhibition)

“This is a special form of seating furniture with a long history that crisscrosses several cultures. The side profile derives from an ancient folding form called a ‘curule chair,’ which became popular in the 19th-century American South and is sometimes called a ‘plantation chair.’ But the form came north through the Spanish colonies and is also called a “Campeche chair” after the port city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Curators are always asked if we ever sit in museum collection furniture. The answer is no, but to me, this one is very tempting.”

Bror Anders Wikstrom (American, born Sweden, circa 1845-1909), Mermaid Cabinet, circa 1905

Second floor, Pellerin Lobby by elevators

“This cabinet is one of my favorite objects at NOMA. It was designed by Bror Anders Wikstrom, who was well-known enough as a Mardi Gras float designer to have his name carved on the building’s frieze when NOMA was founded in 1910. (Look for Wikstrom on the Besthoff Sculpture Garden side.) Perhaps this cabinet was the artist’s life story? I see the Scandinavian wood carving traditions of his native Sweden, and he includes local irises and lilies from his new Louisiana home. And like the mermaid in the central panel, Wikstrom left a life he knew in Sweden for adventure and opportunity in New Orleans.”

George Ohr (American, 1857-1918), Tankard, 1896

Second floor, Louisiana Gallery off mezzanine

“George Ohr, the ‘Mad Potter of Biloxi,’ was a showman and a genius! Ohr created looping handles, experimented with bubbling glazes and threw expertly thin pots that ruffled like fine silk. The inscription on this pot reads: ‘Here’s to your good health and your family’s and may they all live long and prosper. J. Jefferson.’ It’s a quote from the Victorian-era actor and comedian Joe Jefferson, who was the Brad Pitt of his day and famously visited Ohr’s Biloxi studio in 1896.”

French, Fan, circa 1850

Second floor, “Orientalism” installation in Hyams Gallery

“This is a beautiful Victorian fan with an unknown maker and only an estimated date, but I think it shows how we can tell rich stories with modest objects. The fan has painted fantasy scenes showing characters lounging in Middle Eastern dress. We include it in the ‘Orientalism’ gallery because it’s part of the 19th-century popularity for artworks that look to ‘exotic’ cultures. This Orientalist artwork celebrated world diversity but also resonates to us today with issues of cultural oppression, imperialism and even racism in how cultures are portrayed by American, French and English artists. You can appreciate this fan for its whimsical beauty, but included in this museum context, it is also a complicated historic object.”