Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Daughters of André Chastant

Like ghosts of Evangeline, André Chastant’s daughters float brilliant in white and framed within the landscape of southwest Louisiana.  The painting, a combination of photograph and imagination, is my favorite from George Rodrigue’s Cajun period. 

These daughters are not posed around their father as though for a photograph.  Rather, they exist as one unit, a wave-like, footless, luminous shape encased by oak trees and bushes.  Lacking his daughters’ brilliance, their father stands barely noticeable, like a shadow among the shadow-less girls.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, The Daughters of André Chastant, 1971 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, oil on canvas)

The Daughters of André Chastant first appeared in print in the landmark book, The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (1976, Oxmoor House), the first book published nationally on the Cajun culture, also recommended by the National Endowment for the Arts to First Lady Rosalind Carter, who chose it as an official Gift of State during the Carter Administration.  Within, Rodrigue wrote in English and French about the painting: 

“Typical of Louisiana are men such as André Chastant whose life centered around his political campaigns.  Once when running for sheriff, he chose to emphasize the necessity of the Cajuns preserving their heritage by dressing his daughters up as early Acadians and sending them out into the parish on the campaign trail.”

I asked him years ago about this tale and received the answer I now expect:

“I made it up.”

The real story, however, is just as interesting, if not more so.  The original photograph includes his mother, Marie Courrege (second from left), and her friends gathered at a train depot in New Iberia, Louisiana in the 1920s.  They wore Evangeline costumes and sang for a visiting French dignitary following his speech from the back of a caboose. 

Rodrigue removed the girls from the train station, pasting them instead into a Louisiana landscape.  He cut the Frenchman from the train and inserted him within the design, renaming him Chastant, a key portrait within his Aioli Dinner of the same year, and imagining him as a father-figure to his mother and her friends.

Although the photograph inspiring this painting is lost, this type of tribute exists throughout twentieth century Cajun history.  The infamous Louisiana politician Dudley LeBlanc posed with Evangeline-clad young women in front of the White House in the 1950s, followed a decade later by President John F. Kennedy.

Rodrigue’s painting includes his typical oaks, cut off at the top so that the light shines from beneath.  The girls, trees, bushes and sky weave together in a deliberate pattern, locked without room for changes of any kind. 

Subtlety does exist, however, within this highly ordered work.  At first glance the painting appears black and white.  Yet Rodrigue insists,

“My palette during those years was as bright as my Blue Dog palette today.”

Indeed, a closer look reveals reds, blues and yellows, visible throughout the original painting, but most obvious in the photograph within the dresses and sky.  (Be sure and click the photo to enlarge).

Notice in the painting how the figures never touch the sky.  They exist only within the strong shapes of a Rodrigue landscape, their hard edges belying their ghostly aura.  Rodrigue is famous for saying that the Cajuns “glow with their culture.”  Like his fabricated story of the sheriff and his daughters, he uses subject, design and symbolism to create a suspension of disbelief.

In The Daughters of André Chastant, as with most of his Cajun paintings, Rodrigue crosses time and reality, questioning the importance of both.


-for more on Marie Rodrigue, see the story “The Artist’s Mother.”  For more paintings with Marie, see “The Class” and “Boudreaux in a Barrel”-

-although this is my favorite painting from Rodrigue’s Cajun period, my favorite painting of all time is a Blue Dog from 1991, linked here-

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some Like It Hot

George Rodrigue’s newest artwork, Some Like It Hot, pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, a golden icon of the silver screen and public fantasy.  He frames her with a bold design of color and shape, including his own icons, the Blue and Red Dogs.

(pictured, Some Like It Hot, 2012 by George Rodrigue, 26x40 inches, silkscreen edition 125; click photo to enlarge-)

Countless artists capture Marilyn in their own interpretations, made most famous in art by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and photographers Ben Stern and Douglas Kirkland.  For Rodrigue, who grew out of the Pop Art movement, the pairing with his Blue Dog is a natural.  Marilyn is one of the few subjects strong enough to hold its own against his invented image, joining its Red Dog counterpart in a design-battle with the screen goddess.

“We think we know movie stars as people,", explains Rodrigue, "but in real life they are someone else.  The camera loves their look, and as a result we as an audience interpret what they think.  We are seduced by their character. 
“The Blue Dog is similar.  You may look at it and think one thing, but deep down there’s always a mystery of why and what it is.

“These two classical icons together create an even greater mystery.  And to me, that’s the definition of art.”

As with many Marilyn fans, Rodrigue's fascination with her look and presence is enduring.  In 2004, on his 60th birthday, he insisted that his guests attend as Marilyn Monroe or Elvis “The King” Presley.  The party was a literal and visual blast as a sea of bobbing Elvis wigs mixed with platinum ‘dos on the dance floor.  A special fan within a small wooden stage blew dresses high over heads, and I mimicked “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in my best breathy delivery.

(photograph by Tabitha Soren)

My mother, Mignon, had a definite Marilyn thing about her.  Even now her Marilyn Monroe dress, 1960, hangs in my closet and occasionally on my person, transporting me like magic into a slice of that sparkle, something I like to think exists to some extent within every woman…. as well as the occasional daring and beautiful man.

I recall as a child turning carefully the fragile pages of my mom’s Marilyn Monroe scrapbook.  During the 1950s she collected hundreds of photographs from LIFE Magazine, along with movie advertisements and snippets from gossip columns.  She noted Monroe’s clothing, travels, and dinner companions.  

This obsession rubbed off on my sister and me, not as crazed Monroe fans, but rather as devotees in our mother’s honor.  Upon her death, we searched frantically, without success, for the scrapbook.

(photograph by George Rodrigue)

For George Rodrigue, Marilyn Monroe is the first of a series of classic celebrity images, as he works even now on designs incorporating Humphrey Bogart and James Dean.  However, these fine art silkscreens, although stunning, are not his ultimate goal.  Rather, within weeks his 6-foot unique versions on chrome, similar to his series Swamp Dogs, will appear on the gallery walls.  

Imagine it.... Not since Warhol, “so much Marilyn….*” and Blue Dog… on metal!  I can’t wait!


*"so much Marilyn...." from the trailer for the movie Some Like It Hot, 1959

-a note from George Rodrigue:  "Sensitive to copyright issues, I looked carefully with my attorney into the use of old Hollywood images.  To my surprise, many movie studios in the late 1950s and early 1960s did not copyright their promotional images for films.  They were meant to be distributed widely as a way of increasing the celebrity's fame."

-for more information on the new Some Like It Hot artwork, silkscreen or chrome, contact Rodrigue Studio at this link-

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Blue Dog Oak (Old Friends)

Update August 9, 2013:  George Rodrigue (pictured below) inspects the proof for his new hand-pulled stone lithograph based on Blue Dog Oak, printing now in Paris, France.  For purchase details, contact Rodrigue Studio.  

For more on this process, see the post, "Looking for a Beach House," describing another print made in this way.

George Rodrigue’s newest painting, Blue Dog Oak, reunites his favorite subjects in acrylic colors blended adeptly, as though oils.  Unlike his dark oaks of the early 1970s, Rodrigue’s trees today glow with intense hues; yet the rules remain as the hard edges and almost puzzle-like structure control his composition.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, Blue Dog Oak, 2012 by George Rodrigue, 24x36 inches, acrylic on canvas)

The Blue Dog stands framed, surrounded by a pattern of sky and shadowed ground, the stylized fur beneath its ears echoing the oak’s pointed moss.  Without negative spaces, the painting’s structure defies reality.  The spaces between the branches create interesting shapes, clearly a self-imposed challenge for the artist.

(pictured, Rodrigue at his easel, November 2012, New Orleans)

Rodrigue paints the dog as though it’s a Cajun person.  Glowing in blue rather than white, it stands strong with the tree.  For Rodrigue, the tree and dog represent his best friends in art, the shapes he made his own.  Over the years, they grow and change on his canvas just as he does in life. 

As with his paintings of Cajun folk life, the light shines from beneath the tree.  For the Cajuns, this represents their hope, a longing to make a home for themselves in the swamps of southwest Louisiana following their deportment from Nova Scotia in 1755.

In recent paintings, however, Rodrigue paints the light not with the hope of the Cajun people, but rather with a general hope, a brighter future for all, as represented by the now omnipresent Blue Dog.

“People often ask me,” says Rodrigue, ‘Are you still painting oak trees?,’ and I reply, ‘Only when I want to.’  When I paint them today, it’s like visiting an old friend.  As with real friends, this reunion gives me pleasure.”

In Blue Dog Oak, Rodrigue reunites his established subjects on canvas, comfortable with their shapes and symbolism yet challenged, always, to create something unique, if not in subject, then in design and impression, as he seeks a finished painting titillating to his eye.

While exploring new directions in mixed media and chrome, it is Rodrigue’s old friends, the Oak Tree and Blue Dog, which propel him forward even as they, like Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart, connect him to the past.


-pictured above, Marilyn Monroe and other stars, unique large-scale works on chrome, part of Rodrigue's Hollywood Stars-

-for a related post, see “Sunshine and Love:  New Paintings”-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Yoga: One Essay Only

“Yoga relaxes me,” says George Rodrigue.  “The minute Wendy starts her practice, I fall asleep.”

Recently a friend asked me why I never blog about yoga.  For fifteen years the practice infiltrates every part of my life, assisting me with decisions, anxiety, injuries, and relationships.

I promise, George, that if I attend this silent retreat, I’ll return a better wife, I explain annually prior to a week-long journey into mindfulness, without speech, eye contact or computers.

Trepidation keeps me from writing about yoga, the same concerns I feel in writing about modeling for George.  To me, most yoga books and essays reek of self-importance, the ironic result behind a compassionate intent.

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, our nephew William practices yoga last week in Tallahassee, Florida as part of his BMX training; notice George Rodrigue’s silkscreen on the right, My Future’s So Bright I’ve Gotta Wear Shades, 1993; on the left is my mother’s painting, Spring Bouquet, the basis for George Rodrigue’s Mignon’s Flowers, pictured below and detailed here-)

“Yoga,” explains George Rodrigue, who abides my practice without practicing himself, “is obviously a very disciplined activity, something between a sport and a meditation, depending on how you approach it.  It’s similar to painting where one keeps a serious concentration, dedication, and relationship to the art.  Both are exercises in discipline.”

I began a yoga practice during our first year of marriage.  It was my saving grace in dealing with a strong-willed mother-in-law who lived with us in Lafayette, Louisiana.  As I morphed quickly into someone I disliked, I embraced yoga, hoping to approach the people in my home and community with a kinder attitude.  For one hour each day I closed myself into the spare bedroom and repeated the same beginner’s tape:

“Relax your forehead...” 

...instructed yogi Alan Finger as I melted into Shavasana, or ‘Corpse Pose,’ following the active postures.  After ten months of this same instruction, I realized with surprise that my forehead, joining the rest of me, was relaxed already.

“Feel yourself undefended, wide open like the sky...” 

...suggests Erich Schiffmann in tape number two.  It was during this time that I experienced my first retreat, a week in the woods near Helena, Montana, attending daily classes and lectures by Schiffmann, embracing his mantra and “moving into stillness.”

(pictured, from the series Swamp Dogs by George Rodrigue-)

From the beginning, I practiced without my glasses.  Unable to focus on details in the room, my mind turns inward.  For me, the challenges of yoga lie not within a full straddle splits or headstand (neither of which are part of my practice), but rather in facing my internal world without distractions.

This summer, after fifteen years of daily practice, I spent three months without yoga.  

For years I’ve practiced on the road, even during marathon national book tours with George, sometimes traveling to twenty cities in a month.   I spread my travel mat on well-trodden hotel-room carpets, quieting my mind before the happy chaos of crowds ---Rodrigue fans with dedications, collectors with questions, children with their own Blue Dog paintings.  Yoga keeps me grounded on these travels.  Strengthened by my practice, I greet strangers as friends.

“At least you have yoga!” 

...said my friends this summer as George and I lived between a Houston hotel room and hospital fighting his illness. 

Yet, during the time I most needed it, I couldn’t practice.  In the silence, the reality of our situation smothered me.  Each time I practiced, I fought against my emotions, and, for better or worse, I won.

(above:  the ‘fuzz’ also won, despite the dangers…)

Since returning to New Orleans in August, I embrace again a daily yoga practice, just as George again embraces painting.  It was difficult and frustrating battling my closed mind and body, and the first two months included only the gentle pull of Yin (long slow stretches) until I felt the call to move.  Through DVD, I turn to my current instructors, Sarah and Ty Powers of Marin County, California, and covet their wisdom as I intensify my home practice.

(pictured, with Sarah and Ty Powers in the Jean Lafitte Historic National Park and Preserve, January 2012)

I cultivate this re-entry into yoga with a ‘beginner’s mind.’ Past the frustration, I’m thankful for this opportunity to approach my practice anew, adding Yang asana (stronger, flowing postures) to the Yin and, cautiously, meditation to both.  Once again, I cling to a mantra, this one shared with Sarah by her teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and with her students by Sarah, and now with you:

“Let be in equanimity.”


-in New Orleans, I also recommend Amanda Rubenstein-Stern at Wild Lotus Yoga-

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Cajun in Carmel

Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue finds inspiration on the Monterey Peninsula-

It was twenty-two years ago that artist George Rodrigue (b. 1944) opened his gallery in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  One of only two locations* in the country, the artist-owned Rodrigue Studio operates the same way today as it did years ago.  Despite Rodrigue’s increasing fame, he resists mass production and wholesaling, offering his works only through his galleries in Carmel and New Orleans (opened 1989).  The original paintings and silkscreens ship worldwide from these locations, each piece created by Rodrigue’s own hand.

In 2000, Rodrigue and his wife Wendy purchased a home in Mid-Valley, just inland of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s coastal fog.  Since that time, although he lives also in New Orleans, Louisiana, he paints ninety percent of his work amidst the sunshine and rolling hills of central California, an area close to his heart since his school days at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s.

(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, Carmel, California, 2010; click photo to enlarge-)

Born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, this Cajun first made a name for himself as a landscape and portrait artist.  Since 1969 his paintings of the Cajun culture, including posters for events such as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival and Lafayette Mardi Gras, as well as five Louisiana Governor portraits including Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal, and myths such as Evangeline and the loup-garou, endeared Rodrigue to south Louisiana residents long before a Blue Dog catapulted him to world-wide fame in the early 1990s.

(pictured, The Kingfish:  Governor Huey Long by George Rodrigue, 1980, 60x36 inches; click photo to enlarge)

It was such a Cajun story, in fact, the loup-garou, that inspired the Blue Dog.  As a boy, Rodrigue’s mother used the legend like the bogie man, threatening,

“If you’re not good today, the loup-garou will eat you tonight!”

Rodrigue first painted this werewolf-like ghost dog in 1984 for a book of Louisiana ghost stories.  He used photographs of his dog Tiffany, who had already died, immortalizing her in shape and design not as a family pet, but rather as a Cajun-French legend said to lurk in cemeteries and sugarcane fields.

(pictured, Watchdog is the first Blue Dog painting, 1984, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 40x30 inches)

The strong image appealed to Rodrigue, and over time he changed the dog into a tighter shape, bluer color, and friendlier presence.  The early paintings’ red eyes turned yellow, and the grey-blue shade, first inspired by a blue moon and dark night sky, gradually became bolder and even electric, leaving little reminder of the Blue Dog’s ghoulish beginnings.

(pictured, Rodrigue at his easel, Carmel-by-the-Sea; click photo to enlarge-)

It was in Carmel that Rodrigue painted God Bless America on the night of September 11th 2001, raising $500,000 for the American Red Cross.  He painted his Hurricanes in California long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged his home state.  Selections from the seventy abstract round canvases swirl across the walls of museums nationwide, painted on the Monterey Peninsula yet symbolizing Mother Nature’s power as fed by the Gulf of Mexico and familiar to Rodrigue firsthand throughout his life.

(pictured, Lili, 2002, water-based oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 36 inch diameter)

It was also in Carmel that Rodrigue conceived of and painted Bodies, a series of figurative works blending his love of the classical nude, the mystique of Louisiana’s aboveground cemeteries, and the symbolism of his own creation, the Blue Dog.

(pictured, Green with Envy, 2005 by George Rodrigue)

In 2013, for the first time in a decade, George Rodrigue devotes one year to working exclusively in California.  This commitment includes a major Rodrigue museum exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, as well as an ambitious partnership between the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Arts Council for Monterey County, sharing art with thousands of central California students through painting demonstrations, lectures and school visits.

“For years I’ve given back to my home state of Louisiana,” says Rodrigue, “but California has given me just as much, and in 2013 I hope to return the favor.”


*Rodrigue also has a small location open by appointment in Lafayette, Louisiana

-note:  this post is from an upcoming article within De LUXE Carmel Magazine; for a related story see "A Cajun in California," linked here-

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I'm a Writer!

“All I see is that you’re writing with a pen.  Yay!!!”

Author Patty Friedmann cheered the hand-written word after seeing the photo below.  It was December 2010, and I scribbled on the pages of a purse-size artsy notebook, purchased annually in multiples from the Morgan Library museum shop. 

George Rodrigue photographed me as I sat on the steps of a former military base, one of eight bunkers now housing Dan Flavin neon installations at the Chinati Foundation in the remote town of Marfa, Texas. 

The resulting essays became two of my most popular: “New York Art in West Texas” for Musings of an Artist's Wife and a related story for Gambit Weekly, “Rejecting the Metaphor:  Discovering Modern Art in West Texas.” (click the titles for the stories-)

Gambit spotlighted their essay for a week with a photo on the New Orleans newspaper’s opening page, and numerous art sites shared the funny Musings account of George Rodrigue’s Marfa comments long before he talked me into risking a public facebook page of my own.

Thousands of readers, whether or not they accepted concrete boxes and crushed cars as art, related to these stories for their honest and non art-speak account of a minimalist installation designed, let’s face it, for the art elite. 

Yet in my mind I still was not a writer.  The posts are a compilation of George’s photographs and comments and, as he himself stated,

“What people don’t realize, Wendy, is that all of that funny stuff you write is really me!”


(pictured, Don’t Come Around Here While I’m Hot, 2012, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 20x24 inches; finished this week in New Orleans-)

Recently while waiting in line at a pharmacy window, a woman asked me in one breath, as New Orleanians will do, my opinion on this newly renovated Elysian Fields Walgreens and if I thought she overdid it that morning on her royal blue eye shadow, a gift from her daughter.

Predictably, we moved quickly on to the Saints and the price of shrimp-per-pound followed by the question that, although somehow inoffensive in her thick yat accent, I hoped to avoid,

“Dahlin', what do you do for a livin'?”

She leaned hard against the railing, obviously in pain from her recent knee replacement surgery, and I knew that my standard reply, I have an art gallery with my husband, moves quickly to “What kind of art?,” followed by “What does he paint?,” followed by “What’s the story of the Blue Dog?,” all more than I felt like answering on this Sunday morning and certainly more than she needed in her uncomfortable condition.

I’m a writer, I stated verbally for the first time in my life.

“You write books?!,” she exclaimed, obviously impressed.  “Which ones?”

I back-pedaled, explaining that I work on art books, and that unless she was into modern art, she probably wouldn’t have seen them.

“Which artists?” she asked….

….and before I knew it I was exactly where I didn’t want to be….explaining the history of the Blue Dog to a growing crowd at Walgreens while the artist himself waited in the car outside, where he called our brunch guests, explaining that we’d be late and wondering what on earth detained me.

(pictured, Rodrigue books at the Louisiana Book Festival last weekend; click photo to enlarge-)

George Rodrigue, however, introduces me often with the words,

“This is my wife Wendy.  She’s a writer.”

My heroes are writers, just as my heroes are artists, and I stammer in reply to what I see as an undeserving title.

I’ve contributed to, compiled and/or edited eight Rodrigue books since 1994.  Yet it’s not the same as writing my own.

(pictured....posing star struck during last weekend’s Louisiana Book Festival with a real writer, Shirley Ann Grau, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Keepers of the House in 1965; behind us, upper right, is George Rodrigue’s portrait of Grau, part of an installation, “Walker Percy, Sylvester Stallone and the Blue Dog,” on view through November 30, 2012 at the State Library of Louisiana-)

It was author David Lummis who first labeled me a writer and gave me the courage to use the word within bios and on-line.

Now, thanks to a persistent and courageous UL Press, I’ll release my first solo book, a collection of essays from Musings of an Artist’s Wife, in bookstores nationwide, Fall 2013. 

Will you join me on the book tour? I asked George, laughing, as I imagined him swapping out old sharpies and spelling dedications in my ear.

“Yes!” he replied, to my surprise.  “It’ll be fun!”

With that, we hope to see you on the road (and at our favorite festival) next fall-


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paintin' Shrimp Boats and Pickin’ Crabs

“Shrimp boats is a-comin’; there’s dancin’ tonight!”*

After many months indoors, George Rodrigue and I ease cautiously yet eagerly this fall into adventure.  Here in south Louisiana, diversion awaits in exploring small towns, riding an airboat, or simply walking on the nearest levee.  

Our last adventure, some six months ago, took us past Lafayette to the city of Abbeville, Louisiana, where we followed nostalgia, visiting family in New Iberia and photographing shrimp boats at Delcambre.

George longed to revisit the boats he painted as a young man, his first paintings upon his return from art school, now misplaced and mostly forgotten, superseded by the Rodrigue oaks that followed close behind.

(pictured, the only record of Rodrigue’s early paintings of shrimp boats, Delcambre, Louisiana, watercolor on paper, 1967-8; click photos to enlarge-)

“Anytime my mama cooked shrimp, we didn’t just visit the grocery store,” explains George.  “Instead we rode thirty minutes from New Iberia to the boats at Delcambre.  At the time, there were three or four processing plants right on the docks, including the Dooleys, friends of our family. My mother refused to buy frozen shrimp.  It had to be fresh, straight off of the boat.

“When I returned from California and art school in 1967 and decided to paint Louisiana, my first idea was to paint the shrimp boats.  I photographed the docked boats at Delcambre.  There were hundreds of them.”

(pictured above and below, photographs by George Rodrigue, circa 1967; today only a handful of shrimp boats remain in Delcambre where once there were hundreds; click photos to enlarge)

“I set up a dark room in a small closet at my mother’s house in New Iberia, where I developed the black-and-white film myself, making 8x10 photos of the boats.  I used the pictures to paint watercolors of the shrimping industry.”

Last weekend we again traced old ground, but this time towards the crabbing industry and Pierre Part, Louisiana, now famous as the home of Troy Landry and Swamp People.  More than twenty years since his last visit, George was curious about any changes brought on by the History Channel’s popular show. 

(pictured, George Rodrigue stands on the corner of 55th Street at Avenue of the Americas in New York City, March 2012)

Instead we found a tiny town, unchanged except, exclaimed George, “Where are the restaurants?!” as we circled the lake and drove the main drag five times dreaming of fresh seafood.  At last we spotted Landry’s, its only visible sign…well...invisible.

While pickin’ crabs, George and I exchanged childhood stories.  I recalled Granny’s step-ins suspended from the clothesline by crab claws during New Orleans family reunions; Dad swimming into Choctawhatchee Bay (Fort Walton Beach, FL) on a scavenger hunt for his crab trap, tied thirty feet from the dock and loaded with raw chicken and our soon-to-be dinner; and Great Aunt Lois from her trailer on the Tchoutacabouffa River (Biloxi, MS) jumping in fear as I whispered behind her, “Help me, help me” (ala The Fly), channeling the squirming crabs as she dropped them into the boiling water.

“Those crabs are confounding!” exclaimed my Memphis friend Jan after seeing our photos.  “I never understood how to eat those things.”

Surprised by her comments, I thought about the differences between areas of the South, so often lumped together as one stereotype by the national press. I grew up in the Florida Panhandle, and we consider ourselves the Deep South, akin to Alabama and Georgia, as though Disney World and Key West belong to a different state.

History favors Virginia as the true South, but any Gulf state local shakes their head with skepticism.  I didn’t think of New Orleans as the South until I moved here.  The accent may be more Brooklyn than drawl, but one ride past the plantations along River Road corrects the illusion.  And southwest Louisiana is a different place altogether:

“I only ate crabs once as a kid,” explained George.  “I went with my aunts to Pecan Island, where we walked in the water, feeling the crabs with our feet.”

Barefoot?! I exclaimed.

“I wore my tennis shoes.  But my old aunts, they were tough, and they walked barefoot, collecting the crabs for that night’s feast.”

(pictured, pickin’ crabs in New Iberia, Louisiana, circa 1958.  George’s mother Marie Courrege Rodrigue; George’s father George Rodrigue, Sr.; George’s aunt Magitte Courrege; note, Tant Git, born 1880, was a traiteur or Cajun healer; read more here-)

At our house today we forego crawfish, not because we don’t love them, but because George is highly allergic (although he does enjoy painting them).  Yet one of my best childhood memories is awaiting the Grela Parade on Mardi Gras Day in Gretna, eating crawfish from a plastic trashcan on the curb by 9:00 a.m.

The old “Help me” scene with Great Aunt Lois still haunts me, so you won’t find crabs scratching the underside of my gumbo pot's lid.  Boiled shrimp, however, is a staple at our house, as it was during my childhood when my mother, sister and I visited the boats at the Destin Wharf.  

Today George and I buy from area shrimp boats when possible or, in a pinch, from Rouses, a wondrous dream of home-grown Louisiana seafood, sausage, seasonings and, because we Southerners simply can’t help ourselves, nostalgia.


*"Shrimp Boats" by Jo Stafford, 1951

-for related posts see "Remembering Old Biloxi" and “Dancing the Shrimp” both stories for Gambit Weekly-

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunshine and Love: New Paintings

After six months away from his easel, George Rodrigue returns this fall to his instincts, painting throughout the quiet nights in solitude.  The canvases, dominated by a Blue Dog and oftentimes a typical Rodrigue oak, are familiar, yet something is different in the feeling behind the images.  To the point, something is different in his affect.

(pictured, George Rodrigue, October 2012; click photos throughout to enlarge-)

“People asked me all summer,” explains George, “‘What will you paint once you’re back at your easel?’  I said I didn’t know, but that it probably would relate to my illness. Looking at these first canvases, that’s exactly what happened.  I’m painting hope, love, happiness, sunshine, everything that I faced losing.”

Pretty heavy, I thought as he spoke from his easel this morning.  But then everything is heavy these days, even as the world grows lighter and George’s paintings fill with sunshine.  (Before beginning this post, I half-jokingly started one called “Poor Pitiful Me,” a saying my mother attached to my self-imposed drama years ago.)

(pictured, Sunshine Over My Future, 18x24 inches, the first painting completed by George Rodrigue after returning to his easel this fall; click photo to enlarge-)

We’re struggling to grasp this new life, particularly with regards to society and the public.  George’s outlet is painting and mine is blogging, but otherwise, with the exception of commitments related to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, we live a bit like hermits these days, as we contemplate the meaning of this second chance.

Looking back at our calendar, usually booked months in advance, we noted that in more than one year, we had not spent a dinner out just the two of us.   Accordingly, for the past four weeks we’ve enjoyed once each weekend ‘date night,’ an evening set in stone.  Our lives, or rather living, depends, we’ve realized at last, on appreciating each other in action as much as thought.  And we marvel at our ability to turn down with ease what we formerly saw as social obligations.

(pictured, The Path Out of an Unknown Danger, 2012, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 20x16 inches)

Let’s face it, even when we have it bad, George and I have it pretty good.  I wrote this summer about George Rodrigue as one “Lucky Dog,” and I thought a lot about the nature of my own psyche--- how I worried constantly about George’s suffering, struggling even now to relax my panic, while he worried only for my future.

(pictured, Love is All Around Me, 2012, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 30x40 inches; click photo to enlarge-)

I recall a mindfulness exercise several years ago when my sister Heather lead me blindfolded into the Arizona desert as part of a relationships class.  Not permitted to speak, she guided me silently around cacti and over rocks for close to an hour.  At the end, the guide asked us both about our feelings.

“I’m glad it’s over!” said my sister.  “I was afraid the entire time that Wendy would fall.”

I was fine, I shrugged.  My sister would never let anything happen to me.

On the return, Heather wore the blindfold, and I guided her across the uneven sandy terrain, so different from our hometown beaches.

“I’m glad it’s over!” she sighed as we finished.  “I was afraid the entire time that Wendy would fall.”

But I could see! I exclaimed. 

“I know,” she said.  “But I still worried about you.”


-pictured above, Sunshine is Mine, 2012, acrylic on linen by George Rodrigue, 16x20 inches-

-for a related post, see "Blue Dog Oak (Old Friends)," linked here

-meet George Rodrigue during his only public appearance this fall, an exhibition of portraits and a series of events surrounding the Louisiana Book Festival, October 27, 2012; story and details here-

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