Members of the Suburban Reviewers Book Club recently toured the Louisiana State Archives, a treasure trove of Louisiana art, documents and books, beginning with an entertaining introduction to the building from its top official.
“I like to call this place ‘Louisiana’s historical jewelry box,’” said Dr. Florent Hardy, the state archivist, who then went on to explain the contents of the building.
The massive structure is filled with priceless historical documents, art, Louisiana artifacts, a display of Huey P. Long memorabilia, hundreds of books and thousands of other artistic and historic odds and ends, including the World War II quilt made by the women of Watson United Methodist Church in 1944.
“We were delighted with his presentation,” said club President Susan Harris afterward. As the tour ended last Wednesday, she told Hardy, “It’s been a really wonderful learning experience.”
“I think the ladies were pleased because he made us aware of some resources that we might be able to go back and use to get more information on our families, our genealogy,” Harris said, continuing some of the women in the book club gained “a foundation” for research they’re currently doing.
In the 30-minute visit to the State Archives, the women were treated to viewing art adorning the walls of its hallways and its landscaped courtyard, which Hardy said when he took over in 2000 looked like “the Sahara Desert.” It now looks more like the Garden of Eden.
A highlight of the tour was a five-minute visit to Hardy’s office, chock-a-block full of tidbits of Louisiana’s history, a library full of books, posters, election and LSU memorabilia and a wide collection of what Hardy described as “irreplaceable items.”
“One of the things I’m most proud of is a major project I undertook not long ago,” he said, describing a list he showed the book club members of the most valuable things in his office. “I did a bibliography, an inventory, of every book in this office.”
Harris said she had done some research at the facility in the mid-1990s, so she knows there is “a wealth of interesting items that we didn’t get to see…We’ll have to go back when we’ve got more time.”
“We have a great state. We have a great archive,” said Hardy, a former history teacher and professor. “I like to make history applicable to a person’s feelings about something, like the way I feel about Louisiana, with pride.”
Like some of the women in the book club, Hardy talked about his interest in genealogy, which uncovered some interesting facts when a friend offered to work his up.
“Lo and behold, my great, great grandfather was born on the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter in the French Quarter,” Hardy said, then joked, “I’m trying to get that property back.”
The ancestor was married to a woman with roots that were traced back to the American Revolution, he continued, making him eligible to join the Sons of the American Revolution.
Hardy spoke with great fondness of his love for his work and the mission of the archives, “to identify, to collect, to preserve, to maintain and to make available those records and artifacts that enhance our endeavors to understand the dynamics and nuances of our state's remarkable history,” according to the State Archives website.
“People often seem to fail to realize what is contained in archives,” he said. “When children come in, I ask them if they know what’s in libraries. They all know books are in libraries.”
“What do you find in archives,” Hardy continued. “You find original documents to write those books. Documentation – that’s what it’s all about.”
He also told the book club’s members about the State Archives relationships with museums in Louisiana and other organizations – the upcoming 50th anniversaries of CODOFIL, (the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana), and the tricentennial of New Orleans, both slated for next year.
Hardy, proud of the wide range of historical material pertaining to New Orleans, said he has made available to organizations as many documents, books, photographs and multimedia presentations as the State Archives can.