Prescott Trudeau is an exhibit designer and co-curator responsible for the development of the Old Arabi Sugar Museum and the forthcoming Museum of the American Cocktail exhibits as part of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB). Trudeau talks to Gambit about sugar's storied history in Louisiana, the upcoming Museum of the American Cocktail exhibits and the intersection of food and design.
How did you become involved in curating culinary exhibits?
Trudeau: I run my own firm, called NOLA Art Department, but I've had a long-standing relationship with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. The Old Arabi Sugar Museum was the first project that [SoFAB Executive Director] Liz Williams and I worked on together, and it was commissioned by the St. Bernard Parish Office of Tourism. We worked closely with them on developing the project, and it's been open about a year now. We're now working on putting together the Museum of the American Cocktail that will be open in the new SoFAB site. The [Museum of the American Cocktail] exhibit will open in February.
What were some of the highlights of working on the Sugar Museum?
T: The sugar project came up, and St. Bernard Parish had this building that was called the Old Arabi Courthouse and Jail on Hernandez Street. They did renovations after [Hurricane] Katrina, and in the past it had been an informal meeting area for locals and organizations. They wanted to develop it as a tourist attraction for Old Arabi, and with the Domino Sugar refinery just down the street, doing the [sugar] museum in that location became a good choice.
A lot of people want to visit the Domino Sugar refinery, and unfortunately, they don't really have tours or any way for people to see the facility. If you drive up to the gates, they'll actually ask you to turn around because it's a dangerous site and there's lots of stuff going on there. We proposed the idea, because we did a sugar exhibit in collaboration with Domino Sugar inside the [former Riverwalk location of] SoFAB. A lot of the exhibit pulls from SoFAB's permanent collection, and it basically is a chronological history of sugar production and harvesting in Louisiana.
How did you work to integrate food and design?
T: We start [the exhibit] in 1761, when the Jesuits first brought sugar cane to the area, and then there are some important historical dates that are highlighted throughout the museum with certain personalities popping up. There's a large mural laid out with an interactive touch screen, which allows you to see when sugar comes into the refinery, and then the many ways in which it can leave, including how it's packaged for consumers. The history is fascinating, and I tried to let that play into the design.
Indigo was the first major crop that people tried to cultivate in the area, and it didn't really go over very well — it was subpar indigo. They realized then, pretty quickly, that sugar cane was the major crop to focus on. It replaced the indigo industry, but they still had all this leftover indigo. When they made refined sugar, it would be in a cone shape, and they would dye paper with the leftover indigo — blue — and wrap the sugar cones with the blue paper. When people still produce sugar cones, mainly in Mexico, they wrap the cones in blue paper to this day. Blue and indigo became this design consideration for me, and I used that color to really tie the museum together and give it a little stylish pizzazz. —