When Mary Pramuk set out to create the Louisiana Bicentennial exhibit at the Enchanted Mansion doll museum, she knew it had to focus on the people of the state.
“Of all the people who come to visit Louisiana, they always say that what they love the most are the people,” she said.
The exhibit, which will be on display through August, begins with two lavishly costumed dolls portraying Napoleon and Josephine. The area of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River became a part of the United States when, in 1803, Napoleon sold 828,000 square miles of French lands to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
“Napoleon was truly an emperor that our poor (Thomas) Jefferson had to deal with,” said Pramuk, who placed a Jefferson doll from the museum collection next to Napoleon in the exhibit. Jefferson is holding a copy of the Louisiana Purchase.
Napoleon was a controversial figure in his day. “Jumeau, the famous doll maker, did not like Napoleon,” Pramuk said. “He put the bee (Napoleon’s symbol of his empire) on the bottom of the shoes of his dolls. That way, the doll would be standing on Napoleon.”
There are no Jumeau dolls in the bicentennial exhibit, but the museum collection contains others that are on display.
A focal point of the bicentennial exhibit is a large collection of dolls representing the Louisiana melting pot. “Most of these were given to the museum by people who brought them back from various countries,” Pramuk said. These represent the different cultures of the people of the state.
In this part of the exhibit is a doll given to the museum by the family of former Gov. Edwin Edwards. It had belonged to the former governor’s mother, Agnes Brouillette Edwards. “They said it was Mrs. Edwards’ favorite doll,” Pramuk said. “She may have made it herself, but we are not sure.”
Another section of the exhibit focuses on such famous Louisianians as Louis Armstrong and the artist Edgar Degas, who spent some time in Louisiana. There are sections that spotlight Louisiana’s vernacular architecture, the livelihoods of the people and the state’s unique cuisine.
One large section of the exhibit, “Happy Birthday,” contains dolls “from all eras and all races,” Pramuk said. At the front is a Styrofoam and caulk birthday cake that she made to honor the bicentennial.
One large exhibit illustrates a typical cotton plantation wedding created with the museum’s collection of dime store dolls given to the Enchanted Mansion by the West Baton Rouge Museum, where Pramuk served as curator for 15 years.
“After I retired, I was bored after two weeks,” she said. That’s when she saw an article in the paper asking for volunteers at the Enchanted Mansion. That was 17 years ago, and Pramuk is still volunteering.
The Enchanted Mansion, which opened in 1995, is owned and operated by the T.D.S. Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit private foundation whose purpose is to provide financial assistance to the physically and mentally disabled as well as to various outreach programs operated through qualifying organizations. The Sedberry Foundation, established by Rose and Joe Sedberry, is the parent of the T.D.S. Memorial Foundation, which honors the memory of the Sedberrys’ son, a Down syndrome child.
“Since we have been fortunate enough to be able to handle our own child’s needs, we hoped in some small way to help other people who needed assistance with a handicapped person,” Rose Sedberry wrote in a statement of the purpose of the museum.
The original concept of the museum was to house Rose Sedberry’s lifelong collection of more than 2,000 dolls including many rare and unique examples. Over the years, the museum collection has grown with donations from supporters and with museum acquisitions. The Bicentennial exhibit is only part of the collection on display.
“You name it, and we have a doll for it,” Pramuk said.
Mentally and physically disabled visitors are admitted free, said Katherine Brashier, who works at the museum assisting with fundraising and advertising. “The cases are designed so if a visitor is coming through in a wheelchair, the view is not obstructed,” she said.
The museum collection contains examples of Down syndrome and other physically and mentally disabled dolls. Pramuk recalls the day a Williams syndrome child came through the museum and saw a Williams syndrome doll in one of the display cases. Williams syndrome is a genetic disorder that often causes unique facial characteristics.
Pramuk said that the little girl was so excited when she looked at the doll. “‘She looks just like me,” she said.
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