Artifacts belonging to Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. of the Mardi Gras Indians and the Guardians of the Flame—including his final Mardi Gras suit worn as part of New Orleans’ Black masking tradition—count as some of curator Angela Cinquemano’s favorite pieces demonstrating Louisiana’s unique heritage. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Archives

On Exhibit: ‘Written in the Stars’ at the Louisiana State Archives

From artists to entrepreneurs to politicians, Louisiana has long earned a reputation as the birthplace of some of the country’s most notable historical figures. Where would we be without Madame C.J. Walker’s record-breaking business sense? Louis Armstrong’s penchant for jazz? Truman Capote’s literary legacy? By law, the official birth, marriage and death records belonging to ordinary residents and superstars alike eventually end up in the care of the Louisiana State Archives, stored until someone calls upon them for reference or research. But why let all that history lie around collecting dust? 

That’s the thought behind “Written in the Stars: Celebrating 100 Louisiana Luminaries,” the Archives’ new exhibition that offers an up-close and personal look at the famous figures that make up our state’s unique story—with a celestial twist.

“I wanted a chance to feature their biographies in a creative way that perhaps our visitors haven’t seen before,” says curator Angela Cinquemano. “So we grouped the historical figures according to their zodiac signs.”

Cinquemano’s idea, notes state archivist Catherine Newsome, takes the stereotypically staid subject of biography and makes it more accessible. In the “Aries” display case, for example, visitors will find information on famed restaurateur Owen Edward Brennan. Foodies will find kindred spirits in the “Capricorn” case, from documents belonging to Leah Chase (whose apron is also on display) to recipe cards from doberge cake inventor Beulah Ledner. Visitors can beeline to any of the 67-plus artifacts and artworks to see if their Taurus counterparts really share their stubbornness, or if, like naturalist Caroline Dormon, they embody the nurturing spirit of Cancer the crab. 

The exhibition will tie into the Archives’ second annual semi-formal Spring Gala on March 4, as well as to a special talk, “Women Who Have Changed the Food of Louisiana,” on the evening of March 28, both of which will take place at the Archives on Essen Lane. 

“I believe that by exploring artifacts from our collection, as well as personal objects loaned by families and stewards, we can relate to these historical figures on a new level,” says Cinquemano. “Alongside their stories, we can examine our own unique gifts and look at our aspirations concerning the future. I hope the exhibition helps people do that.”