Reconstituting the Vanished (1994-1998) was an image/text project that explores the lives of four remarkable Louisiana women. Gelatin-silver prints made after visiting the places they lived were scanned and combined with archival images and documents from the Louisiana State Museum. The historical interpretations were a 4 year collaboration project which traveled widely. Text by Barbara Allen and digital images by Lynda Frese.
Caroline Coroneos Dormon (1888-1971) was born at Briarwood, her parents’ summer home in the forested hill country of northern Louisiana. After graduating from college, she and her sister, Virginia, chose to live at Briarwood on their 120-acre nature preserve. As a teacher, Caroline was assigned to schools around the state, but found the confines of the classroom limiting. She was eventually transferred to Kisatchie School (named after the Kichai Indians) in the remote forests of western Louisiana. It was there in the high hills, dotted with waterfalls and rocky bluffs, that she saw for the first time vast stands of primeval forest. By 1920 half of the South’s forests had been destroyed and Caroline was working against time to lobby for the protection of old growth forests in Louisiana. She was appointed to head the Forestry Division of the Louisiana Federation of Women’s Clubs and by 1921 she was formally employed by the Louisiana Forestry Division. As one of the first women in the U.S. to be employed as a forester, she worked tirelessly, traveling the state to promote the cause of conservation among the public. During her tenure in the position she persuaded the U.S. Forest Service of the need for a national forest in the state, and with the help of her brother, an attorney, she wrote the enabling legislation necessary to make the public forest a reality. In 1930 her dream became a reality; she named the forest “Kisatchie” in honor of its first people. Her devotion to things native to Louisiana extended beyond trees. She was a founding member of The Society for Louisiana Irises and set aside a large bog at Briarwood for the purpose of both protecting and creating new award-winning hybrids of these native flowers. Dormon’s third passion was the preservation of Native American culture, past and present, in Louisiana. As a consultant to the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology, she was active in designating and protecting archaeological sites for future study. After leaving state forestry in 1930 she continued to live and work at Briarwood, supporting herself with her writing and illustrations. She wrote and illustrated six book and dozens of articles about the Louisiana landscape, including its flora, fauna, and native peoples. In the final year of her life she preserved Briarwood as a sanctuary for native plants and animals in perpetuity.