The brilliant geographer/author Rich Campanella has shed so much light on many facets of New Orleans physical space that it is hard to separate what we knew before he began to teach us about our place and what we now know. Search his name on this blog and find the many pieces that have inspired me.
His latest in The Advocate on the ironwork that has become a signature of the city separates fiction (mythology may be more apt) from fact and is a good example of his gently musing writing style that is eminently approachable and therefore useful to a wide number of people.
I have begun to photograph and map the different ironwork designs around the Quarter, relying on his map from my favorite book of his, “Geographies of New Orleans” which has maps galore of structure styles, ethnographic clusters and much more.
One of those maps is recreated in The Advocate piece, a “heat map” of the many styles of ironwork found in the old quarter.
I’d like to ask him if he thinks this house was Pontalba’s home during the construction of the Jackson Square apartments and if that is why the same signature ironwork can be found on it.
“Why is New Orleans alone among American cities in its association with iron-lace galleries? To be sure, other 19th-century coastal and river cities also expressed their wealth through ornamental iron, oftentimes flamboyantly. Examples may be found in Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Baton Rouge, Natchez, Vicksburg, St. Louis, Natchitoches and Galveston, among others.
But New Orleans is the only American city where iron-lace galleries dominate entire streetscapes. At play are a number of variables. This city has long had an outdoor culture, not to mention a spectacle culture, and both are abetted by galleries and balconies, especially in a climate of hot summers and balmy winters.
The city’s Franco-Hispanic Afro-Caribbean heritage imparted it with a legacy of ironworking and ironworkers. Starting in the late 1700s, its many multistory brick edifices were structurally conducive to balcony and gallery installation, particularly in high-density urban environments.
Port activity made imports of pig iron cheap and available, and an abundance of local furnaces were in place to convert the metal into finished railings.”
Find my photographs using the ironwork search function on this blog.