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3 Baton Rouge museums showcase Louisiana in World War I

A trio of exhibits about Louisiana’s part in World War I will include a walk-through simulation of a trench on the Western Front, propaganda posters and a “trench art” vase made from a spent artillery shell.

The Louisiana State Museum’s Capitol Park Museum , the Old State Capitol Museum and the USS Kidd Veterans Museum all will hold free public receptions on Sept. 28 to open exhibits marking the centennial of the year that the United States entered the war.

“Campaigning for Victory : Poster Art of the Great War” will be shown at the castle-shaped Old State Capitol through Dec. 17.

“I was surprised by how many there were geared toward women,” curator Lauren Davis said. She said that included both posters recruiting for women’s work, such as nurses for the Army and volunteers for the Red Cross, and those asking men to fight for their sweethearts or mothers.

There’s a wider variety of artifacts at the Kidd museum, about four blocks south of the old Capitol, and at the Capitol Park museum, about eight blocks north. Both exhibits will continue well into next year.

The USS Kidd itself, launched in 1943, is strictly for World War II naval exhibits. “It is the best-preserved World War II-configured warship probably in the whole world,” executive director David Beard said.

But, he said, the two-story museum has “a broader mission to interpret and recognize the service and sacrifice of members of the armed forces from Louisiana.”

That’s where “Voices from the Lost Generation: Louisiana in the Great War, 1917-18” will be shown through next year.

Those voices include Capt. Andrew Alvin Callender, a pilot who wrote a letter describing “hot steel flying past my neck,” and after whom the air field at the Naval air station near New Orleans is named, according to ship superintendent Tim NeSmith.

Callender came from New Orleans and joined the U.S. Army, but resigned his commission and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force to get into the air and the war. When the United States asked Canada to help “bootstrap their air service into being,” NeSmith said, Callender was sent to train pilots at Gertsner Field in southwest Louisiana.

“That was the first air field in Louisiana, and one of the really early air fields in the country,” NeSmith said.

The simulated trench is on the museum’s second floor, surrounded with olive drab canvas. “You walk in one end and the trench is on both sides as you go through,” Beard said. “There’s audio of voices and battle sounds. There’ll be a dugout that visitors can actually sort of crawl inside to see what sort of shelters were created, both to get out of the rain and protect yourself from shellfire.”

The vase made from an artillery shell will be part of “For Home and Country: Louisiana in the Great War,” at the Capitol Park Museum through June 9. It bears a raised design of an iris or similar flower above the incised word “Verdun” — site of the war’s biggest and longest battle, lasting nearly 10 months.

Historian Karen Leathem said there’s no record of who made it, or under what circumstances: the museum’s former spokesman, Marvin McGraw, bought it at a Baton Rouge yard sale and is lending it for the exhibit.

“It made me think of Newcomb pottery ,” she said, referring to the art nouveau floral motifs on ceramics made by students, graduates and teachers at Tulane University’s Newcomb College in New Orleans during the early part of the 20th century. “It sort of has that Arts and Crafts look to it. It had to have been made around that time, because it’s using the artistic tropes of that era.”

Newcomb itself is represented by a military-looking wool uniform and a more summery uniform smock work by a member of Newcomb Relief — a group of women who raised money to go overseas with the Red Cross. The war was over by the time they had the money, Leathem said, but the group got to Europe via a YMCA post-war program.

Another uniform was worm by Tulane surgeon Rudolph Matas, who organized and trained a hospital unit of doctors, nurses and dentists for wartime service and later created the intravenous drip technique .

“He didn’t go overseas, due to family matters. But he brought all those people together,” Leathem said.

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