Two decades in the making, the Bayou Teche Museum opens its doors in New Iberia.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Written by Mary Tutwiler
Photos by Robin May
Time seems to stand still under the oaks that line Bayou Teche. Change, when it comes, comes slowly. That suspension of modernization is part of the legacy of the people who chose to live along the bayou, the twisting water snake the Chitimacha tribe called “Teche,” the word for serpent in its language.
Perhaps 18 years is but the blink of an eye in a history that can be traced back 7,000 years, when the nomadic Paleo-Indians who crossed the Bering Straits into North America settled in Louisiana. But 18 years can seem like an eternity for active historians and museum board members anxious to preserve the history of their town in a permanent place.
The Bayou Teche Museum, which opens on July 10, is the fulfilment of that 18-year mission, presenting over two centuries of history, culture and environment of the residents of Iberia Parish.
Two of the original board members, siblings Paul Schexnayder and Becky Schexnayder Owens were working on finalizing exhibits in the days before the museum opens its doors to the public. “It’s been like a long childbirth,” says Schexnayder, a local artist. “We’ve just come through the labor part, and now finally the baby is arriving.”
“Eighteen years,” adds Owens, “that’s a passionate obsession. It has to be to see it through.”
Over the decades, the board tussled with all sorts of obstacles, from losing its first choice of building, the old Teche Wholesale warehouse next to Bouligny Plaza, to the forces of time and wind, which rotted the roof and tumbled some of the building’s walls, and to the usual struggle for funding. Frustration ran high. Even Owens lost hope at times. “I tried to submit my resignation,” she says, “but Mr. Smitty [then board president attorney Smitty Landry] wouldn’t accept it. He wouldn’t even open the envelope.”
Next week, the building that was once New Iberia’s notorious Sports Center, a dilapidated bar and down-low bourré parlor, will show the town a new face. The exterior, which had a rundown Deco flair, has been entirely renovated to look back in time to the 1890s. Inside, cypress beams frame a hallway that leads into the exhibits.
Owens particularly loves the Boutte dance hall display. Mrs. Octave “Gugueche” Boutte ran a Saturday night dance hall in New Iberia in the late
| Becky Schexnayder Owens and Paul Schexnayder
1860s. Owens, a cultural anthropologist who did much of the historical research for the museum, found that the bandstand at Boutte’s was in actuality a four poster canopy bed. The mattress was replaced by wooden boards and provided a place for the accordion player and fiddler to entertain the crowd. As refreshments, Mrs. Boutte served gumbo, coffee and the refined French liquorice-flavored cordial, anisette.
Museum director Tasha Dugas is partial to the moonshine exhibit. A year ago her sister’s neighbors at Lake Peigneur got in contact with her. The scion of the family, Bernard “Blue” Alleman, was a famous moonshiner, taught in turn by his grandfather, Bernard Bourque. Last summer, Alleman was getting ready to make a batch of moonshine — the sugar already weighed, 100 pounds of peaches cut up and ready to go. Alleman passed away before he could fire up the still. “The family was raw with emotion,” says Dugas. They donated the entire set up — the kettle, coil, burner and barrels. “Last week, Tony Alleman [Bernard’s son] saw the exhibit and burst into tears. But he’s not the only one,” continues Dugas. “Everybody who comes in here cries.”
The culmination of 18 years of labor is really only the beginning for the Bayou Teche Museum. Operations are entirely privately funded. Owens is still working on the section of the museum that will address the industries of Iberia Parish: sugar, salt, oil and food.
Meanwhile, residents of the Queen City enthusiastically offer their services as docents, and both the valuable and the strange array of items that make up the past of any town continue to pour in the doors.
“I wish I could count the number of people who have been on the board, who have volunteered or helped us over the 18 years,” says Schexnadyer.
The Bayou Teche Museum will host a grand opening on Saturday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Normal hours are Thursday - Saturday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., or by appointment. The museum is located at 131 E. Main St., New Iberia. Call 606-5977 for more information, or check out the museum’s website at bayoutechemuseum.org.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Homecoming outfits with ease
Acadian style home in St. Martinville or traditional Breaux Bridge home
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
San Fran wins the World Series; Sistine Chapel improvements; Kurds moving toward Syria and more national and international news for Thursday, October 30, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
Saints fans were to gather, make merry, eat/drink compliments of a new Downtown group and watch the Saints beat Carolina and claim 1st place in the NFC South. But...
Three bedroom traditional or four bedroom traditional in Lafayette
Our fav dress for all seasons
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing off one last time with her two main Republican challengers before next week's election.
Shoppers familiar with Louisiana-based Rouses Market might be surprised when they walk into the new third location set to open at the Corner of Johnston Street and Duhon Road south the Acadiana Mall on Wednesday.
Noted architect and co-founder/principal of Architects Southwest receives highest honor given to former student.
Know an innovator, job creator and visionary with a penchant for hard work? We want to know that person.
He’s pulling for Knezek and Hidalgo on his end of the parish but issued endorsements in three other districts as well.