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Rare Artifacts come to New Orleans for Exhibition on Spanish Colonial Era

NEW ORLEANS – The Spanish colonial period in New Orleans spanned just four decades of the late 18th and early 19th centuries but established a far-reaching legacy that still resonates today. The Historic New Orleans Collection’s (THNOC) newest exhibition opening Oct. 20, titled “Spanish New Orleans and the Caribbean / La Nueva Orleans y el Caribe españoles”, will be presented in English and Spanish and restores balance to the assessment of New Orleans as a city with a predominately French heritage.

Once under Spanish rule, New Orleans saw infrastructure advancements, economic and population growth, and an enriched cultural life — elevating the city from a poorly managed outpost on the edge of an empire to a highly urbanized colonial capital. Political leaders were well rounded, with backgrounds in science, agriculture and the arts. Alongside Havana, Mexico City, Santo Domingo, Santiago de Cuba and Veracruz, Spanish New Orleans became a New World outpost of the Age of Enlightenment.

“The period of Spanish rule witnessed dramatic changes in the size and makeup of Louisiana’s population,” said THNOC curator Alfred Lemmon. “The culture that emerged was as diverse as the varied peoples drawn here by ambition, greed, scientific curiosity or forced migration.”

The exhibition features more than 120 objects — including maps, documents, furniture, paintings, books and more — from THNOC’s permanent holdings as well as from several institutions in Spain, Mexico and the United States. The display is the first and only time this selection of objects will be presented together in one space.

Items on display also shed light on the lives of marginalized groups in the city during the Spanish era. Church records chronicle marriages between Black and Native American enslaved people, as well as the baptisms of both enslaved Black people and free people of color. Other objects testify to the brutality of the slave trade and show the relationships between local Native American tribes and Spanish colonizers.

In a first for THNOC, “Spanish New Orleans and the Caribbean / La Nueva Orleans y el Caribe españoles” will be presented in both English and Spanish.

A bilingual exhibition catalog will also be published to commemorate the exhibition. With essays by Lemmon as well as scholars Richard Campanella and Light Townsend Cummins, the book illuminates the far-reaching legacy of Spain’s brief dominion over Louisiana. The hardcover, full-color catalog also features over 75 images of exhibition items and includes an illustrated checklist.

“One of the founders of The Historic New Orleans Collection, General L. Kemper Williams, carefully collected materials related to the Spanish Louisiana experience,” Lemmon said. “As subsequent generations of curators continued to build upon General Williams’ interests, two phenomena emerged: the remarkable legacy of Spanish colonial times, and the profound public unfamiliarity with this legacy. As both tribute and corrective, The Historic New Orleans Collection proudly presents this exhibition.”

Generous support for this exhibition was provided by THNOC’s 2022 Bienville Society, Baptist Community Ministries, the Louise H. Moffett Family Foundation and Spain Arts & Culture.

“Spanish New Orleans and the Caribbean” will be on view on the first level of THNOC’s Tricentennial Wing at 520 Royal St. in the French Quarter from Oct. 20, 2022, through Jan. 22, 2023. Admission is free. Advance reservations are recommended and may be made at beginning Thursday, Oct.13, 2022. For more information, visit

Related programs

The following events and activities will take place in conjunction with the bilingual exhibition. Admission is free. Details on these events and more are available at

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at 7 p.m.

“Concert Spirituel: Saint-Domingue and New Orleans,” the 15th installment of “Musical Louisiana: America’s Cultural Heritage” presented by THNOC and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Pedro Memelsdorff. Guest performers will include Hyunkun Cho, Markéta Cukrová, Jean-Christophe Dijoux, Claron McFadden, Belén Vaquero, and Jonathan Woody.

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, from 6-8 p.m.

Harpsichord recital featuring John Walthausen

THNOC’s Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St.

Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at 6 p.m.

Spanish Baroque Music of the Americas, concert featuring Mahmoud Chouki and Paul Weber with Krewe de Voix Chamber Choir

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square


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