Museum visitors can glimpse the face of an early French colonist

Forensic sculptor Amanda Danning began the facial reconstruction process during her visit to the Museum of the Coastal Bend in May.

Visitors to the Museum of the Coastal Bend can now view the face of one of Victoria’s earliest colonists, thanks to the wonders of modern science and forensic sculpting. The exhibit opens Friday, Sept. 26.

The exact location of La Salle’s ill-fated French colony established in the Texas Coastal Bend in 1685 had been lost to time and the elements until 1996 when eight iron cannons were found buried on the Keeran Ranch in southern Victoria County.

The resulting excavation and scientific examinations revealed much about the colonists, their interactions with native people, and their struggles to survive in an unfamiliar land. Artifacts and information gained from the excavation comprise part of the museum’s permanent exhibits.

“In today’s climate of ‘selfies’ and instant sharing of pictures, we find that our visitors are very image-oriented,” stated Sue Prudhomme, Victoria College’s director of cultural affairs and museum director. “The facial reconstruction project has allowed us to meet our visitors’ desire to see the colonists. We’ve put a ‘face’ on one of them in the most accurate way possible without having an actual photograph of the person.”

The remains of three individuals were unearthed during the archaeological investigation. One of these was an adult male. From historical documents recorded by the Spanish and evidence found on the remains, scholars have been able to identify him as the Marquis de Sablonnière, a lieutenant in the expedition who was killed by the Karankawas during the final days of the settlement in late 1688.

To recreate his likeness, pieces of Sablonnière’s skull were first X-rayed and CAT-scanned at Citizens Medical Center in Victoria. Colorado-based 3D Systems – Medical Modeling used the scans to create 3D images which were then printed on a 3D printer. The result was a complete skull, made of plastic resin, which comprised the foundation upon which forensic sculptor Amanda Danning overlaid clay musculature, connective tissue, and finally skin.

The six-month-long facial reconstruction process is now complete. The facial sculpture has been installed at the Museum of the Coastal Bend as part of the permanent exhibit, “Where Texas History Began.”

An unveiling for sponsors and museum members will take place on Thursday, Sept. 25, followed by the public opening on Friday, Sept. 26.

The Museum of the Coastal Bend is located at 2200 E. Red River St. on VC’s Main Campus. Viewing hours are from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. Admission is “pay what you want.”

Published: Friday, 19 September 2014

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