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‘La Beau Petit Musée’

Museum offers sampling of life along the Bayou Teche

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:32 am | Updated: 10:19 am, Wed Sep 26, 2012.

JEANERETTE — It’s museum time in Sugar City.

The Jeanerette Bicentennial Park and Museum is having a “free”-for-all event on Saturday. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the museum and its grounds will have musical entertainment, arts and crafts and loads of local authors signing their books.

The museum is holding the special festivities as part of the eighth annual Museum Day Live! event, organized by Smithsonian magazine. About 1,400 venues across the country are expected take part in Museum Day Live! All participating museums offer free admission “in the spirit of Smithsonian Museums, (which) offer free admission every day,” according to the Smithsonian’s website.

Though Jeanerette’s Le Beau Petit Musée (The Pretty Little Museum) isn’t open Saturdays, it’s making a big exception, holding its own Jeanerette Museum Day Live!

“We have a wonderful working relationship with the Smithsonian, having hosted two major Smithsonian exhibits (in the past 10 years),” said Gail Garcia, event coordinator and museum board vice president.

Its 2004 Smithsonian exhibit was called “Yesterday’s Tomorrows,” and its 2008 one was called “New Harmonies” — both were traveling exhibits. “New Harmonies” celebrated American roots music and “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” was a futuristic exhibit, Garcia said.

Now, Garcia’s planning a bang-up celebration in conjunction with Museum Day Live! Artists will set up in the front yard offering their wares — paintings, jewelry, lawn art and glass art.

“It’s a good variety and a great chance to shop,” Garcia said.

And local authors will be there, selling their books and ready to sign. New Iberia native Nelwyn Hebert, who co-authored “Iberia Parish,” which details the parish’s history, will attend. The event’s other authors include Stephanie Judice of New Iberia, Lynn Shurr (also known as Carla Hostetter) of New Iberia, Margaret Simon of New Iberia and Roger Stouff. Also members of the New Iberia Life Writers will be selling their book.

“So we have many authors to choose from. Books are wonderful Christmas gifts or gifts of any type,” Garcia said.

Once visitors survey the grounds and enjoy some music, they can tour one of Jeanerette’s best kept secrets. There will be guided tours all day, where visitors can see every part of the museum including the main building as well as its auxiliary building in the rear.

One noteworthy exhibit details 200 years of sugar cane in the area. Full of photographs, it documents the industry’s history in the parish and shows cane being planted by hand. The exhibit was created by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and is on permanent loan to the museum.

“We have different farm equipment and different parts of the sugar cane industry featured,” Garcia said.

On the museum’s back lawn, painted bright yellow, antique tractors sit near the Bayou Teche, showing the industry’s earlier era.

Darlene Derise, curator, knows the museum backwards and forwards. It opened in 1976 and is designed to give visitors a flavor of old Jeanerette and Iberia Parish, she said. Pictures dating back to the 1800s fill the walls, telling the story of a by-gone era. And each room in the house, which dates back to 1902, has a theme.

The music room/military room has photos of local bands through the years and an antique piano on one side. On the other side, military uniforms line the top of the wall — all donated by Jeanerette residents who served their country. There are even photos of German prisoners of war who worked in the cane fields whiles locals were off fighting the Axis Powers in World War II.

“They were German prisoners from North Africa,” Derise said.

There’s also a sewing room, a kitchen and an antique bedroom. In addition to a quilt made by a 9-year-old in 1896, the bedroom has some clothes from early 20th century. A dress worn by a girl for her first communion, in 1918, hangs near a picture of the girl on her big day.

“And it’s still snow white,” Derise said.

And there’s an animal room dedicate to the Southwest Louisiana low country and its critters. A cane-break rattler slithers across the wall, while ducks take flight, all against the backdrop of a Louisiana swamp mural.

Derise said the museum’s focus is to let people know about the sugar cane industry and the Cyprus mill background in the area. She said the museum tries to educate area residents, particularly school children, about the past. It gives lots of ours — plenty for schools from Lafayette, Morgan City, Houma, New Iberia and Delcambre.

And visitors come from all over. On Wednesday morning people from Minnesota were checking out the different rooms, Derise said.

“They were all excited. They had never seen sugar cane, nor had they seen the process (of) how it’s made,” she said.

Jeanerette Mayor Tim de'Clouet, said he will be at the museum Saturday. He said the museum has received support from residents because it reminds them of the city’s basic traditions — most prominently the sugar cane industry.

De'Clouet said the museum’s done well preserving the city’s history and is a great resource.

“(Residents) should know about their own home before they start traveling to other places,” he said.

And de'Clouet said the special event is an excellent opportunity for locals to experience Le Beau Petit Musée .

“I think we have a lot to offer at that little museum. It’s the best-kept secret in (this community),” he said.

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