Curator begins plans to bring Iberville Museum to next level

Staff Report

Megan Sylvester knows she’s in a special place as curator and director of the Iberville Museum, and now she’s ready to take things to the next level.

Megan Sylvester has big plans for the Iberville Parish Museum.

Four years after she accepted the job, she’s has begun work to enhance the museum, which has operated for the past 20 years in the building that served as the Plaquemine City Hall until 1985.

Sylvester wants to put more focus on the entire parish and particularly its heritage. 

It’s a matter of making it much broader in scope, she said.

“We’re looking to make it Iberville-centric and not just one part of the parish -- to bring a universal appeal to the entire parish and not one part of the parish,” she said.

Part of that process will involve an update of the collection management policy, which has outgrown the size of the museum.

When the museum launched in summer of 2000, the collection was open to almost any and all memorabilia available for exhibits.

“But now that we’ve been open 20 years, we’ve accumulated a vast number of items,” the Ville Platte native said. “Some of them are great, some are perfect for the parish history and others not so much. So, much of what we started with was narrowing the scope to make sure that it fits with the history of the parish and that can be used to help visualize and conceptualize that history.”

The project comes down to reducing the number of items that don’t tell the history of the parish and putting more focus on those items that show the history.

“But then we can break up the space in a way that it’s more organized to tell the history and that we can focus on the early settlement of the parish and all of the small towns that exist or no longer exist in the parish,” Sylvester said. “We want to make it much broader in scope … more Iberville-centric and not just one part of the parish to bring a universal appeal to the entire parish.”

In some instances, it will take Iberville’s history much further than a few hundred years.

Shintech is loaning items from a site it found last year, which includes some artifacts that go back as far as 3,000 years ago.

It will include wooden tools and pottery shards that will go on display at the museum.

“We’re not only about our European history, but also of the people who were here long before that,” Sylvester said.

The museum remains a deep fascination for Sylvester, even four years after she accepted the post.

She still remembers her first impression of the museum.

“I saw it as something with potential, and I was so excited that they were interested in what I had to offer, and I remember walking through the museum, and especially walking into the Atchafalaya Room and seeing the potential in there,” Sylvester said. “I’m not from Iberville Parish, so I knew I had a lot of research to do before I could do anything, but I remember being so excited that they had such potential to share history.”

She wants the museum’s scope to focus on all of Iberville, and all the hidden treasures throughout the parish.

Every part of the parish offers a fascinating piece of history, Sylvester said.

“There are so many hidden gems and treasures many people don’t know about,” she said. “For example, Maringouin was once a big lumber town, and Carville had a rich history with the Gillis W. Long Center, and the same goes for every other part of our parish.”

The Gillis W. Long Center, which once served as a commune with those who suffered from leprosy, is a major part of the parish’s history, Sylvester said.

She recently connected with Elizabeth Schexnayder, curator of the Carville Hospital Museum, to put more focus on the Carville area.

“She has a wealth of knowledge for the east side of the parish that I have not really been able to touch on because that part of the parish is so large and has so much history,” Sylvester said. “I’m also reaching out to members from Rosedale, Grosse Tete and White Castle to build on the history of those areas, along with the bayou areas.”

The size of the parish and the volume of history makes the project very challenging, she said.

“It’s hard to narrow down the scope because, again, it’s such a big parish and we have so much history to tell and only so little space,” Sylvester said. “This redesign is going to be an incredible exhibition that’s going to be hard to include everything we want to include and do it justice.

“We have space in the library for temporary exhibits, but to nail down this story and make it one exhibit will be a challenge,” she said. “The only reason the redesign is possible is doable is because of funding we got from parish government, and they gave us grants for operations and the redesign.”

Sylvester said much of that would not have happened without the help of Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr., who hired her in 2017.

“He’s been very supportive of us, and he has given us the funds to help us move forward,” she said.

The museum offered programs last summer with help of an intern, Paetyn Wyble from UL-Lafayette, who had lesson plans on the Atchafalaya Basin project that teachers could incorporate into their lessons plans.

“It’s for all schools in the National Atchafalaya Area, so teachers can incorporate them into those lessons, and if they want to come to the museum, we offer free courses to school groups,” Sylvester said. “Iberville has an amazing history, and we want to share it with everyone.”