Our Mission and Subsequent Involvement with LSU

For a while now I've been involved with the Louisiana State University's Rural Life Museum. Its a Living History type museum located in Baton Rouge, LA. For many years they have been a premium venue for the depiction of early Louisiana Life on the Gulf Coast. The museum sits on an approx 50 acre portion of a large research facility managed by the LSU Agricultural Department. Its nestled away from the busy city around it where little noise is heard but for the calls of native birds and the bellows of the resident team of working Oxen. This is all possible due to the generosity of the Burden Family. For more information on the Museum and its related history visit the Museum's Web Site and see Whispers of the Past

I first met David Floyd, the current director of the museum, during a lecture on Louisiana Architecture, we talked a bit about traditional woodworking and the collection of tools currently owned by the museum. Most of these tools are not on display and had been acquired by the previous director of the museum as it was his passion. Unfortunately the subject of woodworking is an aspect of the museum which has not yet seen maturity. A week later I returned to the museum and was handed a box of various moulding planes in need of sorting and identification. I don't think David or I realized what the future could hold for me at the museum.

Shortly after this I ordered a working 7'2" long Pit Saw from Sheffield England and did a demonstration of Lumbering on the Early German Coast of Louisiana. In addition to the pit saw there were axes, broad axes, adzes, fros and other tools being wielded for two days of fun with thousands of onlookers during the museums Harvest Days Festival. I recently went out again for the Rural Christmas Festival but this time demonstrated the building of furniture with hand tools. I will continue to participate with these events every year and look forward to seeing these adults and children both eager with questions alike.

At the present time the museum has a small display of Joiner's, Cabinet Maker's and Cooper's Tools tucked away in a small corner of a building as well as a small display on Lumbering tools and carts in another. There are also steam powered mill tools strewn about the main building. Sadly much of the museum's hand tools are boxed and stored in various areas away from the public eye - the point of this entire blog and the newsletter that brought you here is to change this.

We have an exciting project in the makings. We are planning to erect a new timber frame barn to house the large milling tools and a steam engine to power them! It is my goal to have a class room under this same roof where students of all levels of skill may come and learn about the history as well as hands-on learning of the tools and techniques of the 18th Century Craftsman. Further down the road it is my goal to also add a working steam powered Sash Mill (an early form of saw mill) to the property to further the learning experience of students and visitors.

At the present moment, we are working to offer classes through LSU's continuing education program. These will be a mix of history as well as technique however due to space and resources they will only do to wet the appetite of the truly interested folks. I am hoping to resolve this limitation as quickly as possible however I do realize we shall be forced crawl before we run. If you have interest in the current project, please contact me. I am working on a strictly voluntary basis for the time being and any and all help would be appreciated. Obviously, funding will be our largest stumbling block for this project. The gears are in motion but they require the power of our toil and the lubrication of funding to move forward.

Even if your contribution is to pass this along to others interested in Traditional Woodworking or Living History, it will be appreciated. To volunteer or contribute financially, you may contact me or the museum.

Among the fine examples of Early Louisiana Architecture the the museum currently has a working blacksmith shop with periodic demonstrations. It is my goal to add a Cooper's Shop, a Wheelwright's Shop, a Joiner's Shop, a Cabinetwright's Shop and a Sawyer's barn. This will be a long and slow process finding the funding but most importantly the volunteers skilled in these crafts or who are willing to learn them will be the most important asset of all.

Please help us further and enrich the learning experience for students and visitors on the magnificent history of South Louisiana and its many talented craftsman and woman.

Jean Becnel
L'ébénisterie Créole

© Jean Becnel, 2012. 
The material found herein is the sole intellectual property of it's author(s). 
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