Monday, April 13, 2015

Rodrigue On Stage

George Rodrigue and I worked as a team on stage for many years. Recently, especially after he became ill, I filled in for him occasionally on my own; yet he was always there, coaching me beforehand and quizzing me afterwards.

(pictured, at the Clinton Library, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2010; click photo to enlarge-)

This weekend, for the first time, I’ll speak in public truly without him.  I’ve thought a lot about my half hour presentation----how best to represent George and our foundation, and how best to honor Louisiana’s young artists, brought together for the 6th annual GRFA Art Scholarship Awards Ceremony.  (Details and ticket info here-).

I’ve also thought about how, during my first return to Louisiana in more than a year, to face and answer questions with both the sincerity George’s fans deserve and the discretion that I require.  It’s a complicated and emotional pursuit, and I doubt I’ll have an answer... even as my plane lands... even as I approach the stage.

(pictured: Soul Mates, an original silkscreen by George Rodrigue, Artist Proof, 1997)

As long as I knew him, George lived outside of the box.  This was true in his art, in our relationship, and in his joie de vivre.  He broke rules and took chances, and he taught me to do the same ---to live by instinct and heart over establishment and expectations.

He wasn’t afraid, for example, of criticism that might accompany a short painting demonstration:

“I watched him paint that whole canvas in under an hour!” 

...exclaimed on-lookers, some impressed and some, especially after learning the price, aghast.

(pictured: A painting demonstration for the LSU Museum of Art, 2011; click photo to enlarge-)

In 1997 George and I first entertained an audience with a painting demonstration at the Red River Revel in Shreveport, Louisiana.  As he painted, I shared George’s history, while clarifying his style and approach through anecdotes.  

“I can’t talk and paint at the same time,” he laughed. 

This began a tradition, and we found ourselves in demand across the United States.  We presented similar events at the National Arts Educators Association Convention, the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the Phoenix Art Museum, and numerous book fairs and schools.

For these demonstrations, we geared our unscripted banter to the audience.  George used large brushes and paint straight from the tube, an approach he developed for public painting because, he admitted, 

“If I had to watch an artist paint for as long as it really takes, I’d get bored.”  

He wanted his fans to see what appears to be a complete painting materialize from a blank canvas in under an hour, even if, in reality, it was only a rough design.

Subject matter usually included both the Blue Dog and the Oak Tree ---visual aids that materialized before the audience's eyes. In the loose sketch below, for example, painted during a 2001 lecture in Houston, Texas, George illustrates the simple elements that are the basis for his paintings.

-click photo to enlarge-

Using one of his typical landscape compositions, he emphasizes three components, each of equal importance on his canvas:  tree, background, and foreground.   He used these elements to create infinite arrangements of shapes.  This was the reason, he explained, that his paintings, even as he repeated the same subjects hundreds of times, remained varied and interesting to the eye.

Note:  The number “3,” which should indicate the foreground in the sketch above, is trapped instead inside of the oak.  After the lecture, George extended the trunk of the tree so that it better filled the space, creating a new bottom line to the oak’s shape, and covering part of the original foreground space.

Following the demonstration, George returned the painting to his studio where he reworked it for anywhere from several days to a week.  In the photo above, he shares the finished painting, My Second Birthday, completed in his Carmel, California studio following a painting and cooking presentation with Chef Paul Prudhomme. (story here)

“People thought it looked good on the stage,” he said.  “But I was never happy with it and always repainted it afterwards.”

Prior to these public painting demonstrations, George’s brushwork typically was tight.  However, influenced by his style on stage, he gradually loosened his approach on some canvases in the studio as well.  As a result many paintings since the late 1990s reveal looser, freer strokes.  Eventually, George admitted that, despite hundreds of tightly controlled compositions, one of his favorite ways to paint is to simply walk up to the canvas without any preconceived ideas.  He enjoyed working out a successful design based on the circumstances of the moment, while reflecting with honesty, his psyche.

“I know it will have a Blue Dog,” he said, “but beyond that, the challenge for me is in creating and just letting it happen.  That’s why my favorite painting is always the one I’m working on now.”

It is this approach, rather than a formal speech with lecture notes, that guides me on my return to the stage this weekend.  I’ll also unveil a few rarely seen paintings borrowed from the wall of George’s home studio.  My hope is that these symbols will embody, with both their personal and historical resonance, my partner’s influence, so that I might represent him well, with genuine and heartfelt sincerity during this auspicious event.


-please join me in New Orleans on Saturday, April 18, 2015 for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts Scholarship Luncheon, honoring 15 finalists from more than 600 statewide entries inspired by this year’s theme, “Louisiana’s Music.”  11:30 a.m. at the New Orleans Sheraton Hotel.  Details and tickets here-

-don’t miss “Rodrigue:  Houston,” a special Texas exhibition opening this month.  Details here-

Best Blogger Tips

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Petro Brothers

“Ya’ here to look or to buy?...”

…barked Bud Petro from the porch of George Rodrigue’s Jefferson Street gallery.  From a rocking chair, he watched the Esso station he owned with his brother Norman, while monitoring and, according to George, “scaring away” potential Rodrigue collectors.

“I couldn’t tell him to leave,” laughed George.  “He was part of my gallery experience!” 

(pictured, The Petro Brothers, 1978 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 30x40 inches; Bud and Norman Petro with André Rodrigue, photographed by George Rodrigue, 1978; click photos to enlarge)

George Rodrigue loved to tell and retell stories about his friends, long gone, and the Petro Brothers were among his favorite subjects for storytelling ...and for paintings.

Bud Petro (1909-1985) and Norman Petro (1917-2011) owned and operated the Lafayette, Louisiana Esso station, sharing a busy corner with Borden’s Ice Cream and Rodrigue’s Jefferson Street home and gallery. 

(pictured, Petro’s Newspaper, 1987 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 14x11 inches; rather than buy his own, Petro read George’s paper every morning, returning it to the doorstep before George, who painted all night, awoke-)

Although friends with both brothers, George spoke most often of Bud.  “Petro” was his traveling companion for many years.  They drove much of the southeast and Texas together in George’s van, carrying paintings to clients.

On one journey, while parked at a Dallas, Texas café, they returned to a broken window and missing camera equipment.  To George’s relief, the thieves left the large paintings; however, they absconded with something far more valuable (in Petro’s mind) ---- Bud’s suitcase.

“My clothes!” 

...cried Petro about his irreplaceable wardrobe.  I can hear George in my head telling the story and laughing, as he described the polyester suits and wide collars that remained Bud’s staple long past the disco craze.

“He was so upset that he wouldn’t go to dinner,” recalled George.  “I met with my collectors and didn’t get back until late. When I knocked at Bud’s motel room with a bucket of chicken, he grabbed it, shouting, ‘Well it’s about time!,’ and slammed the door in my face.”

(pictured, a photograph George labeled “Mr. Petro,” showing Bud Petro (center) with Frankie Mandola (L) and Ray Hay, photographed by George Rodrigue at Ray Hay’s Cajun Po-Boys in Houston, Texas, 1978; notice the poster of Rodrigue’s classic Jolie Blonde, 1974; click photo to enlarge-)

George wrote of the painting below, as pictured in the cookbook, Talk About Good! (pub. 1979, Junior League of Lafayette)...

“This painting portrays Ray Hay holding his Cajun Po-Boy sandwich, and beside him is Bud Petro of Lafayette, Louisiana.  The two are discussing one of the new items on the menu, Petro’s juicy fried rabbit.  The preparation of the rabbit is so secret, that Mr. Petro was flown in to Houston to teach the cooks how to prepare this Cajun delicacy.”

George often photographed and painted his son André with Bud Petro, posing them in his Jefferson Street backyard and manipulating the landscape around the figures on his canvas.

(pictured, two versions of Let’s Play Ball, 1980 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 40x30; click photos to enlarge-)

George’s favorite Petro Brothers images, however, are slides from a day among the azaleas with Diane Bernard Keogh.  He photographed Diane often and painted her numerous times over some thirty years, as Evangeline from Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline:  A Tale of Arcadie, 1847. (See a selection of paintings here-)

George loved these photographs and viewed them repeatedly, always laughing about young, beautiful Diane with the older, indelicate brothers.  (Note:  I had difficulty choosing here, so you get all of them; be sure to click the images to enlarge-)

These too became paintings, the last one finished the year Bud died. 

(pictured, Two Uncles and a Niece, 1985 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 24x36; click photo to enlarge-)

George’s favorite Petro story, the one he retold countless times, recalled a trip to Shreveport with Bud, as they delivered a painting to Palmer Long (1921-2010), son of Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long (1893-1935):

 “Don’t open your mouth...” 

...warned George, as they approached the Long house.

But as the door opened, George fell silent, stunned by Palmer, whose eyes were exactly like his father’s. 

“I knew those eyes well,” said the artist, “because I had just finished painting them.”

(pictured, The Kingfish, 1980 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 60x36 inches; click photo to enlarge, and learn more here-)

"Howdayado, Mr. Long," 

...said Bud, thrusting out his hand before George could stop him.

Without breathing, Petro blurted out, fast.....

“I wanna tell ya how much I appreciate your daddy havin’ made the highway run in front of my service station.”

Upstaged already, George realized that Palmer Long was more fascinated by Bud Petro than he was with the painting.  The two shared hunting stories, which also left out George, who was never a hunter.

As the evening wore on, Palmer showed off his prized wooden duck call: 

“Petro made a fuss over it,”

...recalled George, shaking his head.  

“Then he reached in his pocket, cupped his hands at his mouth, turned his back, and produced a far superior sound.”

Curious and impressed, Long asked to see the duck call.

“Petro turned around, slow....” 

...said George, a bit quiet and with a build-up...

 “...and then he fanned open, like butterfly wings, his empty hands.”


“Aww man," 

 continued George,

"…. it was fantastic.”


-above:  me, imitating George, imitating Petro-

-for more on the Petro Brothers, read Norman Petro’s obituary here-

- please join me April 18 in New Orleans for the 2015 George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts Scholarship Awards; details here-

- “Rodrigue: Houston,” a special exhibition with original Rodrigue paintings spanning 45 years, opens April 25, 2015; details here-

(above, with Frankie Mandola, photographed by Diane Bernard Keogh, Houston, Texas, 2013; click photo to enlarge-)

Best Blogger Tips

Friday, March 13, 2015

Swimming Upstream

This morning George joined me in the bedroom after painting all night.  We stood at the window and watched the sunrise.
     “There’s only one owl,” I whispered.
     “Maybe they split up,” he replied.
But we both knew better.

We wanted to see the bears.

In 2003, while in Alaska, George Rodrigue and I flew in a seaplane to a remote shore area near a trailhead.  Neither of us were hikers; we preferred walking in the woods. This particular day we followed the trail while clapping and singing (Jimmy Swaggart spirituals, as I recall) lest we surprise the locals, finally reaching a small cabin-type structure over a river. 

Now quiet, we hunkered low in the lookout and waited.  

Immediately, we were distracted---not by bears, but by fish---so many salmon that to pinpoint one, much less count the many, was impossible.  They swam furiously in a sea of themselves, an undulating phenomenon.  I whispered to George,

“I’ve never seen anything or anyone fight so hard for something.”  

He nodded in silence and, amazed, we studied the situation, barely noticing the bears as they stuffed themselves at the buffet.

(pictured, Baby George and Boogie Bear, 1995 by George Rodrigue, silkscreen edition 90, 30x21 inches)

We learned later that the salmon, born in a small freshwater pond, swim with the current to the ocean, where they wander far and wide in the saltwater for several months or several years, depending on the variety, until an alarm sounds somewhere inside and says, That’s enough, Time to go, at which point they take a hard turn into that same freshwater stream, for an even harder fight, this time against the current, complete with boulders and raging water and bears, to reach the very place where they were born.

What’s the big deal with salmon fishing?...George and I wanted to know, realizing we could grab the fish with our hands.  Turns out, however, that by the time the fish begin this journey in earnest, they are already decomposing, a detail that makes no difference to a bear, but turns the stomach of us humans.

(from Why is Blue Dog Blue?; click photo to enlarge)

Of the millions of fish, approximately one percent reach the end or, depending on one’s perspective, the beginning.  Of those that do, the females, just prior to their deaths, lay their eggs in the shallow water.  The males, decaying all the while, use their last ounce of virility to fight over fertilization rights.  It’s no wonder, we mused, that a diet rich in salmon is recommended for increasing testosterone levels in humans.

At sunset, following a full day with the fish, we stood on the shore awaiting our return flight and, as a bonus, spotted the bald eagles.  In my memory, it seems that there were hundreds of them, a bird we seldom saw before, and only singularly, in the Big Sur Wilderness near Carmel.  Yet on this late summer’s day in Alaska, the most revered of America’s birds crowded the tops of the pines, no doubt attracted, like the bears, and like us, by the distracted and unsuspecting fish. 

(from Why is Blue Dog Blue?; click photo to enlarge)

Since visiting Alaska twelve years ago, we often recalled the salmon, especially during the last few months of George’s life. Their story unfolds like a Shakespearean drama, a metaphor for existence, really.  It’s dust-to-dust, with the will to live and the desire to love falling somewhere in between. 

Once, a few years ago, after several misdiagnoses regarding a skin discoloration on my torso, I became a class project (a lab rat) at a university hospital where the professor, standing over me, explained my rare condition.  As I reclined on the table while George and half a dozen interns looked on, the doctor stated, matter-of-factly,

“Your epidermis is decaying.”

In horrified unison and to the confusion of all, George and I exclaimed, 

 “Like the salmon?!” 

Followed by...

“Will I (she) smell?!”

(The skin condition, by the way, is called morphea; my case is painless and relatively mild, and it provides the excellent service of keeping my vanity in check.)

For all of his paintings of oak trees and one dog, George was not a naturalist or nature-painter.  Therefore I have no paintings of Alaska ---- or of salmon or bears (excepting stuffed bears) or eagles to share with you.  He did enjoy photographing nature. However, with a few exceptions, those images remain within his files, a place I can’t yet face.  So we’ll all have to wait and, as George would expect me to do anyway, revisit the salmon another time. 

As I’ve shared often within lectures and essays, although George admired plein air painters, he was not one himself; nor did he paint nature from his photographs, even though he used photography as a tool, usually cutting and pasting elements from the photographs to create fabricated designs on his canvas. 

He also used photography for inspiration.  In fact, in the late 1960s, before he painted Louisiana, he photographed it. After studying his slides he realized that no matter what or whom he photographed, “Every picture contained a tree.”

It was this realization that lead him to choose the Oak Tree as his shape and symbol, not based on a particular tree in nature, but rather on his tree, the one “in here,” he used to say, while clutching his chest. He developed a style of painting the tree, with hard edges and dissected by the canvas, so that the sky and light create interesting shapes beneath the branches, rather than overhead.

“If you stand here, Miss Wendy,” noted a wise child, as she took my hand during a school fieldtrip at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, “the light shines from underneath the trees, just like in Mr. George’s paintings.”

(pictured, The Road Back, 2008 by George Rodrigue, water-based oil on canvas, 18x24; click photo to enlarge-)

These days, when I awaken at night, I don’t find George, as I did before, at his easel.  But I do feel him in these ‘fish stories’ and, although I’m rarely in Louisiana anymore, in nature.  I sense him on the white sands and green waters of Okaloosa Island, in the long shadows cast by the short New Mexican pinons, and within the eyes of animals he never painted ---- such as Zoey, my sister Heather’s family dog.

George and I felt linked to a pair of great horned owls that joined us for years to watch the sunrise from behind our home in Carmel Valley.  The giant nocturnal birds, however, always left in the morning mist, long before the light allowed a decent photograph.

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, in the golden afternoon sunshine of Galisteo, New Mexico, an unlikely visitor moved a small gathering to silence.  He remained a long time, maybe half an hour, watching these family and friends, among them myself, George’s son André, and, as a group, the artist-peers George most admired, the closest thing he knew to a Blaue Reiter or Vienna Secession, and the reason he visited Santa Fe every year since this artists' community first welcomed him with a solo exhibition in the mid-1980s.  One way or another, I heard from almost all of them over the following weeks, each one believing the owl to have been a mystical occurrence or visitor of some kind.

-click photo to enlarge-

I don’t know if George has tried to contact me or not.  I don't even know if I believe in such things.  I feel sure, however, that the owl is more likely a sign than the salmon, which is found, in my new southwestern home, only at select restaurants.  What I do know is that I’m still swimming upstream, looking for him, despite the odds ….. everywhere.


*With this return to blogging, I realize, at last, that I’m the keeper of the memories, and that if I don’t write them down and get them out of my head, then the stories end.  I also have journals of notes and half-finished essays based on conversations with George.  No promises on how often I'll post, however, because, well, reliving us without him is ….

*The companion images of George and of me within this post are digital collages (2013, 20x20 inches, editions 50; click photos to enlarge), a combination of paintings and photographs arranged and colored by George in his computer, then printed on heavy rag paper. Wendy is his last artwork that includes me; and Rodrigue is his last self-portrait-

*Our owl visitor was photographed by George's friend, artist Douglas Magnus. Over a 25-year period, the two collaborated on numerous unique buckles and jewelry designs, such as this belt, which they made for me in 2012-

*In recent months, the Rodrigue family took on personally both George's Facebook page and the foundation’s, expanding the posts to feature not only his art, but also quotes, stories, and photographs.  Please join us on Facebook at The Art of George Rodrigue and The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  Also, find us on instagram-

Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie (An Adventure)

Last year I often found George Rodrigue in his studio in the middle of the night.  He worked for weeks on the painting Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, yet instead of photographing him at his easel, I stood quietly behind and watched. 

(pictured:  Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, 2013 by George Rodrigue, acrylic on canvas, 48x60 inches)

At the time, he struggled with a medication’s side effects that temporarily altered his appearance.  We both believed that the treatment was working and that his health would improve, and capturing that difficult period with pictures seemed inappropriate.*

Interestingly enough, as I prepared to photograph the painting after it was finished, George stopped me:

“No. Wait. I don’t want anyone to see it yet.  I’m saving it.”

For what?

“Mmmmmm.  For Christmas.”

He painted it, he explained, intending a hand-pulled stone lithograph of the image, printed in the old style in Paris, France.  It would be his fourth print using this method, following Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a project for Amuse Bouche Winery in 2008, and Looking for a Beach House and Blue Dog Oak, both released earlier in 2013. (Click the print titles above for images and details of the process).

(pictured:  Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, 2014, Rodrigue estate stamp edition of 275, 30x40 inches, a lithograph printed in Paris, France, based on Rodrigue’s original painting, released this holiday season, one year after he intended; for price and availability, contact Rodrigue Studio or email; click photo to enlarge-)

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie is a perfect example of the classic Rodrigue style:  a stylized oak tree dissected by the canvas’s upper edge so that its lower branches form interesting blue shapes above the bushes. The subjects –the Oak Tree, the Blue Dog, and even the handmade carvings- connect a lifetime of painting and interests.

In the mid-1990s we visited the tiny town of Oberammergau, Germany, where George bought the wooden train and conductor, along with several other carved pieces, such as the artist figurine he used in Pop Goes the Revel (below), a 1998 painting and poster for the Red River Revel in Shreveport, Louisiana.

And in 1983, he used wooden figurines from an earlier trip to Germany to create the painting that would become a Festivals Acadiens poster in Lafayette, Louisiana. 

Read the story behind this special painting, along with George’s quotes about his fascination with these figurines, here-

In addition, George held a lifelong obsession with trains.  One year we drove in our truck to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado to ride again the cog train he recalled from a childhood vacation.  We rode the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train two years in a row so that he could experience both the open and closed cars.  And it was by train that we traveled from Munich to Oberammergau to collect the wooden figures he would later use in his paintings.

George painted Choo Choo Ch’Boogie for himself, never intending the painting for sale.  He hung it on the wall of our home, alongside He Stopped Loving Her Today, his tribute to George Jones, also painted last year.

(pictured, George Rodrigue (right) with his childhood friend, Jordan “J.L.” Louviere; Carmel, California, Summer 2013; George wears a t-shirt designed by his dear friend, Lafayette artist Tony Bernard; click photo to enlarge-)

George titled his painting Choo Choo Ch’Boogie based on the popular song.  Although first recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan, George probably became familiar with “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” in the late 1950s after he got his first transistor radio, about the same time Bill Haley and the Comets recorded their version of the song for their album Rock ‘n’ Roll Stage Show (1956).

His favorite recording in recent years, however, is the one we sang along with as we crossed the country annually in our truck. We grew fond of Asleep at the Wheel in the late 1990s when we toured with the band for Neiman Marcus events in Texas and Hawaii. Listen and sing along here

(pictured:  photograph by George Rodrigue, 2013; see more here; click image to enlarge-)

Just as George intended this print’s release last Christmas, he also intended that I share its history with you at that time.  So this post, like the new print, is a way of following through on that commitment.  Although this return to blogging is short-lived, I’m ever-mindful of George’s legacy, specifically the history behind his style and individual artworks, and I sincerely hope you’ll continue to explore the blog’s hundreds of essays.  The most popular are listed by category down the right side of this page; and the rest are available through the search feature and dated archives, also located to the right.

I also thank you for purchasing The Other Side of the Painting (2013, UL Press).  George and I were unable to tour with the book as we’d planned; and I’m unable to do so without him.  But it is his story, and our story, full of history, nostalgia, quotes, and more.  As fans of his art, I encourage you to explore it if you haven’t already.  100% of the proceeds benefit the arts-in-education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  More details at this link-

Are you scared? I asked George late one night last December, as we breathed together, my head against his chest.

“No,” he laughed, a mere whisper, yet still in his Snagglepuss-style. “It’s an adventure!” he continued, perhaps thinking of the trains, his eyes wide and bright like an expressive dog’s.

But we take all of our adventures together…

“I know,” he replied, still smiling, even happy, as he wiped my tears.  “But you can’t come on this one, Wendy.  Not yet.”


*George’s health did improve for a time, and I photographed him at his easel as he worked on the painting He Stopped Loving Her Today.  Story and images here-

-for questions/comments, contact Rodrigue Studio or email

-Don’t miss the special retrospective exhibitions, including original works and memorabilia from our private collection and George’s archives, on view through January 2015 at Rodrigue Studio New Orleans, Lafayette, and Carmel; more info here-

-With sincere thanks to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the State Library of Louisiana, Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, and the Louisiana Book Festival, which dedicates this year’s festival (Nov. 1, 2014) to George Rodrigue.  Details here-

Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Farewell, For Now

Dear Friends,

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind messages, articles and prayers.  I know that many of you are hurting, and I am truly touched not only by your memorial tributes for George, but also that you reached out to me personally.

I also thank you for your generous donations to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  Our family is more determined than ever to continue its educational and scholarship programs.

George Rodrigue’s three galleries will reopen this month, beginning with New Orleans on January 16, 2014, followed soon after by Lafayette and Carmel.  Our remarkable, dedicated staff remains intact and, in the midst of their own grief, ready to resume work, sharing George’s art and life with others.

We will begin with exhibitions devoted to George’s history, including photographs, articles, and original artwork from our home, his studio, and his archives.  In addition, we’ll present throughout the coming year several new silkscreen prints, beginning with artwork designed by George in 2013 for this purpose.

(pictured, Mardi Gras 2014, 30x40 inches; a painting by George Rodrigue, which he intended as a silkscreen print; for information on this and other available works, please join our mailing list-)

George’s younger son, Jacques Rodrigue, energized by his youth and his dedication to his dad’s legacy, assumes full-time gallery management, even as he continues his leadership within the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and Louisiana A+ Schools.  In addition, George’s facebook page remains active thanks to Jacques and his team.

George’s older son, André Rodrigue, remains in Lafayette at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro and the Blue Dog Café, where most days you’ll find him relaying history at his increasingly crowded table, or making seafood wontons in the kitchen, both with equal diligence and importance, and both imbued with his natural spirit of kindness and generosity towards friends and strangers alike.

(pictured:  The Rodrigue Family during the exhibition Rodrigue's Louisiana:  Forty Years of Cajuns, Blue Dogs and Beyond Katrina at the New Orleans Museum of Art, 2008-)

And me? I’ll remain involved peripherally for now, advising quietly as needed, while otherwise allowing these capable young men to lead the galleries and foundation in new directions.  I know that they, as much as me, remain, above all else, mindful of the awesome responsibility of their father’s legacy.

At the top of this letter, I thanked you for your messages.  However, I must be honest.  On my computer sits more than one thousand unread emails.  My telephone voicemail is full.  The newspaper and magazine articles remain unread.  And your cards and packages sit unopened, stacked high in our foyer.  I know that they are there.  I know that you are there.  But I can’t face any of it at this time.  Please know that I will return to the telephone and mail on the days when I most need to hear your voice and read your words.  And in the meantime, I'm comforted just knowing that your messages await.  

I hope you’ll forgive me not only for the confession above, but also because I must retreat from the public life and, to a great degree, from our private lives, for now.  To those of you who might worry, please know that I am not alone, and that I will be Somewhere. 

Finally, until and if I’m capable of writing again, I share with you, my gentle readers, George’s last words...

"You're my Wendy."

Take care of yourselves.  Take care of your loved ones.

Wendy Wolfe Rodrigue

-I leave you with hundreds of on-line essays at Musings of an Artist’s Wife, dedicated to George, along with a new book, The Other Side of the Painting, chronicling his history, his art, and our lives together.  100% of these proceeds benefit the arts in education programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.  More info at this link:

Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cora’s Restaurant and CODOFIL

In 1968 attorney and former Louisiana State Senator and U.S. Representative Jimmy Domengeaux* (1907-1988) of Lafayette founded the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, known as CODOFIL. Impressed with the initiative, Louisiana Governor John McKeithen pushed through a bill that granted the organization the necessary state credentials.

(pictured:  In 1912 Louisiana Governor Hall issued a special edict that French could no longer be spoken in schools; George Rodrigue’s He-bert, Yes – A Bear, No is one of fifteen paintings from his Saga of the Acadians, 1985-1989, detailed here-)
In order to save the French culture in Louisiana, Domengeaux, CODOFIL’s president from 1968 until his death in 1988, championed the French language, reintroducing it into the state’s public schools. Through an ambitious plan, he imported teachers from France and Canada to Louisiana and, remarkably, convinced the French government to fund the program.
The first one hundred and fifty applicants chose between two years in the French army and two years in the small town parishes of Louisiana. They lived in private homes and taught the proper French, as opposed to the Cajun dialect, a controversial decision that resulted in mixed and prolific press for Domengeaux, whose bigger-than-life persona attracted considerable public attention.
“He was sarcastic, flamboyant and crude,” explains artist George Rodrigue about his old friend, “and he was desperate to preserve the unique culture of south Louisiana, just as I tried with my paintings. 
“We got along great.”

(pictured:  Rodrigue and Domengeaux with Rodrigue’s Broussard’s Barber Shop, The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, 1971-)
It was Domengeaux who told George about Cora’s Restaurant, a combination grocery store, boarding house, restaurant and bar located during the 1930s and 1940s in the country outside of Lafayette.
“There’s no record of these old places,” explained Domengeaux.

George painted the long-gone establishment using his imagination, but based on his friend’s description. According to Domengeaux, the restaurant’s cuisine was more Creole than Cajun. Known for great food, Cora’s and places like it were unusual because of their diversity, attracting Cajuns, Creoles and African Americans. 

The place employed a large staff, including children, most of whom boarded on the property. For the painting, George invented the people, recreating them in his typical Cajun style, all in white, without shadow, and locked into the landscape.

(pictured:  Cora’s Restaurant, 1975 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas, 36x48 inches; click photo to enlarge-)
According to George, Domengeaux grew frustrated with the general lack of interest in this faded part of Louisiana’s history. In Cora’s Restaurant, beneath the enormous oaks, these timeless figures glow with Louisiana’s culture, reinforcing on canvas both Rodrigue’s and Domengeaux’s mission.
In addition, Domengeaux and Rodrigue held shows in Lafayette for French painters Valadier, Surrier and Brenot, presenting the artists with keys to the city and exposing the local community to these French masters. At one such exhibition in the late 1970s, French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing attended, with hopes of further strengthening the Louisiana-France bond.

(pictured:  Artists Valadier, Madame Surrier, Surrier, and Rodrigue; a Valadier painting leans on the floor, and a Surrier hangs on the wall; The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, circa 1979-)
By the late 1970s, Domengeaux's fame extended to France, where people often thought that he was the President of Louisiana. According to George, Domengeaux enjoyed more clout than Governor Edwin Edwards. At one point, in fact, the CODOFIL president tussled with the State Department for cutting a deal on his own with a foreign government. As usual, however, Domengeaux charmed his way out of the mess and got what he wanted.
Whether or not one applauds his methods, Jimmy Domengeaux’s pride in Louisiana’s heritage drove his life’s mission and deserves admiration. His efforts produced a lasting and positive effect on our state. At a time when many dismissed Louisiana’s fading culture, particularly the French influences within small town, southwest Acadiana, he cherished it. Through CODOFIL, one man made a difference.
“I’m proud to have known Domengeaux,” says George Rodrigue about his old friend. “He’s a true Louisiana legend.”

*the pronunciation of “Domengeaux” is close to “DiMaggio,” as in the baseball player-
-a new Rodrigue book, The Other Side of the Painting, is “an illuminating, lively memoir recounting a husband and wife’s devotion to the arts;” learn more here-
-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips