NOMA Presents Exhibition on Prohibition and Temperance in New Orleans and the American South

NOMA Presents Exhibition on Prohibition and Temperance in New Orleans and the American South
Rebellious Spirits: Prohibition and Resistance in the South examines objects from the early 20th century that show how the period radically altered the relationship between Americans and alcohol.

NEW ORLEANS – This Friday, March 1, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) opens a new decorative arts exhibition that looks at Prohibition in the American South. Rebellious Spirits: Prohibition and Resistance in the South explores the unique methods in which communities in the United States, particularly in New Orleans, dealt with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned alcohol in the country. 

“Art is a critically important lens to better understand our history,” said Susan M. Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “This insightful exhibition brings a 13-year period of New Orleans—and American—history to life, and demonstrates how makers responded to their time through art and material culture.”

After more than fifty years of vigorous debate led by a religious temperance movement, the 18th amendment was added to the Constitution in 1919, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States.

Through objects including cocktail shakers, drinking glasses, liquor containers, and medicine bottles, Rebellious Spirits not only explores the radical changes the Prohibition period instilled within American society’s relationship to alcohol, but also the religious, racial, and economic tensions that stemmed from it. The exhibition looks both at how individuals circumvented Prohibition Era restrictions and how the popular temperance movement advocated for sobriety as a moral and political issue. 

Presented in the museum’s second-floor Elise M. Besthoff Charitable Foundation Gallery, Rebellious Spirits includes over a dozen works drawn from NOMA’s permanent collection further contextualized with historical ephemera, documents, advertisements, and glassware on loan from local institutions, including the Historic New Orleans Collection and the Pharmacy Museum. While the Prohibition era represents only 1920–33, the objects on view in Rebellious Spirits tell a story of drinking culture in the American South starting in the first half of the 18th century.

The exhibition is organized by Decorative Arts Trust Curatorial Fellow Laura Ochoa Rincon, who is currently completing a two-year fellowship at the museum.

“New Orleans is an American epicenter for drinking culture, and was even before Prohibition. The unique social, political, racial, and economic backgrounds of New Orleanians and people in the American South led to various ingenious methods of skirting the law. Alcohol consumption connected all walks of life during the era of Prohibition,” said Ochoa Rincon. “This exhibition tells those diverse stories through objects that carry the voices of a rebellious society, determined to take freedom into their own hands.”

Visitors to the exhibition can expect to see: 

  • Prohibition-era cocktail shakers.
  • Bottles from the only brewery in New Orleans to survive prohibition, Jackson Brewing Company.
  • Glasses that demonstrate changes in historical drinking culture, such as an 18th century Dutch-engraved Venetian wine goblet.  
  • Jugtown Liquor vessels which were popular with Louisian moonshiners.
  • Propaganda both for and in defiance of the temperance movement, exploring how Prohibition policy further solidified a rift in society at the time.
  • Historical cocktail recipes.
  • Paper prescriptions used by doctors of the time period to legally order alcohol for patients.
  • Multimedia components including an audio sample of Francis Buck’s “Temperance Waltz”—used to promote abstinence from alcohol consumption—and a stereograph viewer showing an image used to promote low-ABV “near beer.”

Rebellious Spirits: Prohibition and Resistance in the South is on view at NOMA March 1, 2024–January 5, 2025.


Media Contacts

Charlie Tatum
Director of Marketing and Communications
New Orleans Museum of Art

Ra’Jae’ Wolf
Marketing and Communications Associate
New Orleans Museum of Art


About NOMA and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and its Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden are home to innovative exhibitions, installations, educational programs, and research. Exploring human creativity across time, cultures, and disciplines, the global scope of the museum’s initiatives open a vibrant dialogue with the history and culture of New Orleans. The museum stewards a collection of nearly 50,000 works, with exceptional holdings in African art, photography, decorative arts, and Japanese art, as well as strengths in American and French art, and an expanding collection highlighting contemporary artists. The museum’s exhibitions and dynamic learning and engagement offerings serve as a forum for visitors to engage with diverse perspectives, share cultural experiences, and foster a life of learning at all ages. Recent exhibitions include Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, The Orléans Collection (an exhibition of forty European masterpieces from the collection of the city’s namesake, Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans), East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth Century America Landscape Photography, and Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories (seven contemporary art projects focusing on reimagining stories from the city’s past).  

NOMA’s 12-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden expands visitors’ experiences of the museum with one of the most notable sculpture gardens in the country. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden, free and open to the public seven days a week, has nearly 100 sculptures and outdoor works of art situated in a unique landscape featuring Spanish moss-laden live oaks and a sinuous lagoon surrounded by an expansive ecosystem of native plants. The works in the garden range from the 19th to the 21st centuries, with pieces by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois, Ida Kohlmeyer, Claes Oldenburg, Sean Scully, Maya Lin, Do Ho Suh, Ugo Rondinone, Wangechi Mutu, Hank Willis Thomas, and many others. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden features contemporary design elements—including a sculpture pavilion, an amphitheater, and an architecturally significant canal link bridge connecting the garden’s original 2003 footprint with a 2019 expansion. Its water management practices support the health and resiliency of New Orleans City Park and the surrounding environment. Throughout the year, NOMA hosts outdoor programs in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden including festivals, performances, wellness classes, tours, and more.