Decorative arts objects—furniture, home furnishings, and the tools of daily life—carry the stories of the people who made and used them. The exhibition Pieces of History showcases the Decorative Arts of the Gulf South (DAGS) project’s efforts to preserve and share these stories.
DAGS began in 2011, when New Orleans attorney and avid antiques collector Paul Haygood (1943–2015) established the Classical Institute of the South (CIS) to document decorative arts objects made or used in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama before 1865. The project’s cornerstone is an annual summer fellowship program that recruits graduate students and young museum professionals to conduct fieldwork cataloging historic objects and refining the information for a free online database. The Historic New Orleans Collection became the permanent home of the CIS in 2015, ensuring the continuation of Haygood’s initiative. In 2020, the CIS project was renamed DAGS to clarify its mission.
Pieces of History celebrates DAGS’s first decade by exhibiting significant objects cataloged by fieldwork teams alongside research photographs taken for the database. Field stories from the project’s alumni highlight memorable experiences and meaningful objects from the summers the fellows spent exploring the historic houses of the Gulf South. The exhibition also examines trade networks, cultural values, and the brutal system of enslavement that produced the Gulf South’s wealth.
From fine sofas to agricultural baskets, the objects cataloged by DAGS vary in style, origin, use, and stature. Both rare and common pieces from the past are now priceless to researchers seeking a better understanding of the complex cultural and economic relationships of the region. These pieces of history give us a more complete picture of the private, social, and economic lives of past generations.
The Historic New Orleans Collection gratefully acknowledges the sponsors of the exhibition, Nell H. and Fredric J. Figge and Mrs. Frank W. Masson.
The DAGS database, which contains constantly evolving records on hundreds of Gulf South decorative arts objects, is fully accessible through the Louisiana Digital Library (LDL), an online library of digital items from archives, libraries, and museums across the state. Through the LDL, researchers from around the world can search DAGS records by keywords, download medium-resolution images, and share objects of interest on social media.