WBR Museum hosts tobacco cultivation photography exhibit through Nov. 3

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South

Photographer Charles Martin spent eight years documenting the tradition of Perique tobacco cultivation, which is now only cultivated on one place on earth - a 30-mile tract of land in St. James Parish.

His collection will be on display at the West Baton Rouge Museum until Nov. 3.

The labor-intensive cultivation process dates to the early 19th century, and its rituals have descended as occupational folklore through a handful of local families, including Martin’s. 

Acadian Pierre “Perique” Chenet is often credited with being the first farmer to begin selling “le tabac de perique” in 1824 on the east bank of St. James Parish. 

He was said to have learned the pressure-fermenting process from Choctaw and Chickasaw Native Americans who aged tobacco in stumps in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The current system has changed little since then. 

In modern times, perique's distinctive aroma comes from barrel fermentation. It is the only tobacco in the United States that is grown and put in its final condition for the consumer by the farmer.

Only a handful of working farms remain dedicated to perique cultivation, so Martin's photographs are important documentary evidence of this vanishing tradition. 

Most of the photographs document the relationship that exists between the farmers of St. James Parish and their crops.