Largest cache of French colonial artifacts on display for the first time

The Bullock Museum reunites La Belle with the bulk of its cargo in exhibition opening this fall

AUGUST 16, 2018 (AUSTIN, TX) —  For the first time since they were unearthed in 1995, thousands of artifacts found aboard the wrecked ship La Belle will be on view to the public as part of a new exhibition opening this fall at the Bullock Museum. The exhibition, Becoming Texas: Our Story Begins Here, covers more than 16,000 years of history, with La Belle and its cargo featured.

"La Belle carried many of the items needed to establish a colony in the Americas, such as trade goods, weaponry for protection and things needed for daily survival," said the exhibition's curator Franck Cordes. "Basically it was a 'colony kit' with thousands of items, including cannon, axe heads, glass beads and tools for farming and carpentry."

The ship sunk in Matagorda Bay taking its cargo with it, effectively putting an end to French explorer Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle's ambitions to establish a French colony in North America. Rediscovered in 1995 by the Texas Historical Commission, the cargo and remaining hull were painstakingly excavated and underwent extensive preservation by the THC and Texas A&M University. Although the hull and a sampling of artifacts have been on view at the Museum since 2014, the vast majority of items have been in storage.

The story of La Belle and its role in changing Texas history will be just one of many explored in Becoming Texas. Beginning with a 16,000-year-old stone projectile point, the exhibition will explore the cultures of the American Indian nations and tribes that lived in the regions of Texas, with immersive audiovisual environments, hands-on interactives and stunning artifacts. Visitors will experience the immense diversity of the cultures found throughout Texas, exploring daily lives, trade, craft, and languages found across the many different Texas landscapes.

The exhibition also looks at the arrival of Europeans from Spain and France, their attempts at colonization and relationships with the tribes and nations they encountered. Rarely seen artifacts such as a St. Francis santo demonstrates attempts at religious conversion, while heavy mission gates built for protection speak to the conflicts that arose over control of the land.

"The richness of artifacts assembled from around the nation, new multimedia experiences, and contemporary research tell this story in a new and exciting way that lays the groundwork for how we became who we are," said Margaret Koch, Bullock Museum Director.

"Visitors will understand not just what happened in Texas, but the global ramifications resulting from those events," said Cordes. "As they explore the exhibition, they will see how the cultures which were established so long ago are the deep roots of the culture of Texas that continues to exist today."

Becoming Texas: Our Story Begins Here will open in November 2018.  For more information and updates, visit TheStoryofTexas.com and follow the Bullock Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Support for Becoming Texas provided by the Texas State History Museum Foundation and the State of Texas through the State Preservation Board.

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The Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin includes three floors of exhibitions, an IMAX® theater, a special-effects theater, café, and Museum Store. The Museum collaborates with more than 700 museums, libraries, archives and individuals to display original historical artifacts and produce exhibitions that illuminate and celebrate Texas history and culture. Named for the state's 38th Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock, the iconic building is at 1800 N. Congress Avenue. For more, visit TheStoryofTexas.com or call (512) 936-8746.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum is owned and operated by the State of Texas through the State Preservation Board. Additional support of exhibitions and programs is provided by the Texas State History Museum Foundation.

Exhibition Rendering

This press release is part of the Becoming Texas: Our Story Begins Here Media Kit

In December 2018, the Bullock Texas State History Museum will unveil the state's most comprehensive look at more than 16,000 years of Texas History with the permanent exhibition Becoming Texas: Our Story Begins Here. View Media Kit