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.
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.