Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Lost Painting (Festivals Acadiens)

In this computer age, Rodrigue Studio retains detailed records of art purchases, occasionally borrowing paintings from collectors for public exhibition.  However, prior to the late 1990s, records were partial, hand-kept and often lost.  People move, and paintings sell or pass to descendants.  Some works exchange hands through private sale, and unless the art appears at public auction or the owner contacts us for appraisal, the whereabouts of many Rodrigue Cajun paintings remains, still today, a mystery.

Until recently, such was the case with George Rodrigue’s Festivals Acadiens 1983 (oil on canvas, 40x30 inches).

-click photos to enlarge-

I asked George about the painting’s imagery:

“Festivals Acadiens was conceived in the 1970s by Jimmy Domengeaux of CODOFIL and held annually in Girard Park.  He showcased the Cajun lifestyle, mainly to share with visiting French teachers and dignitaries the resurgence of French culture in south Louisiana.

“I painted my first Festivals Acadiens poster in 1981 and included samples of the various crafts, activities, food and music spotlighted within the festival." 

“Soon after, I traveled to Germany with my then-agent, Kurt Schoen, visiting European artists.  I stumbled on a German wood-carving shop with figurines highlighting various subject matter, from religious iconography to common hobbies.  They reminded me of the variety of interests within the Cajun culture. 
“As a result, in the 1983 poster I portrayed the Cajun as a wood-carver, modeled by Bud Petro, my good friend who owned for 45 years a service station on the corner of Jefferson and Johnston Streets across from Borden’s ice cream. I also included a modern Evangeline in traditional Acadian costume, and I used the German carved figurines to reinvent the imagery of our traditions, such as the pig for the boucherie, a Ferris wheel representing the fair, and an artist holding a small Rodrigue painting.”

“I invented the carved Cajun musician with accordion, representing music, as well as the small wooden pirogue, duck decoy, and camp or cabin, referencing fishing, hunting and the swamps.

“This unusual cast of objects and characters gathers on and around a quilted blanket, part of the weaving exhibition. 
“I made several thousand posters and donated them to the festival, which used their proceeds to offset costs.”

Today our archives includes a small stack of festival posters; however, the location of the painting itself remained a mystery for three decades until two months ago when Janet Wood, retiring after thirty years at Capital One Bank, contacted us regarding the original work hanging, since her first year in banking, within her Lafayette office.  She encouraged Capital One to use the painting to further their philanthropic efforts in Acadiana. 

“What can we expect at auction?,” she asked.  But George and I barely heard her, as we grasped the possibilities surrounding this discovered buried treasure.

We shared with Janet the mission and programs of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA).  Would she accept a Blue Dog painting in exchange, George asked, donating the 1983 Festivals Acadiens to our foundation?

The Blue Dogs have a proven track record at auction, considerably higher than Rodrigue’s Cajun works. Capital One, encouraged by Wood, agreed to the trade, offered the Blue Dog at auction, and in a truly magnanimous gesture, donates those proceeds back to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts for the benefit of art supplies and programs in Acadiana schools.

(pictured, My Yellow Oak, 2013, acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 36x48 inches; auctioned by Capital One Bank on 2/24/13 at New Orleans Auction Galleries, with all proceeds benefiting the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, specifically its programs in Acadiana schools)

We expanded this transaction into a partnership almost immediately, launching our first joint-project with Capital One at SJ Montgomery School in Lafayette, Louisiana last week, where George, Parish President Joey Durel, the GRFA staff, and representatives from Capital One painted with students and distributed art supplies. 

-click photos to enlarge-

Michael Wack, Southwest Louisiana Market President for Capital One Bank, shares our enthusiasm for education, as well as an impressive commitment to Festivals Acadiens:

“Capital One Bank is committed to Investing for Good in Acadiana. Throughout the year, we support programs and initiatives that benefit our local schools and students, because we believe that a quality education is the most important determinant of future success for children.

“We also believe in celebrating the deep cultural history of Acadiana, and one of the major ways we do that is by serving as presenting sponsor of Festivals Acadiens. This festival means so much to us as a local bank because it celebrates those things that make Acadiana so special: world-class music, food and art.”

(pictured, Lafayette Parish President Joey Durel, Capital One Market President Michael Wack, Artist George Rodrigue, Superintendent of Lafayette Parish Schools Dr. Pat Cooper)

“We are proud,” continues Wack, “to have donated the 1983 Festivals Acadiens original oil painting to the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. The foundation will display this classic Cajun painting on museum tours for art lovers of all ages to view and admire for years to come, and the partnership between Capital One Bank and the foundation will support other local education programs as well.”

This dynamic exchange, as I mentioned at the start of this essay, occurred because a lost painting came to light, first through Janet Wood’s initiative, then through the vision and generosity of Capital One, and finally through Louisiana’s growing enthusiasm for the arts in education, as championed by the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. 

On the thirtieth anniversary of its creation, the formerly lost Festivals Acadiens 1983 now hangs in the GRFA Education Center at 747 Magazine Street in New Orleans, where it awaits wonderful adventures on tour.  In effect, Capital One returned this painting not to George Rodrigue, but to the people of Louisiana.  Whether on view at their local museum or representing the Cajun culture elsewhere, this special painting embodies the unique traditions of Acadiana, while representing the educational possibilities spawned by an exciting new partnership.


-the Lafayette Advertiser covered our recent Capital One partnership and SJ Montgomery School visit with a front-page article and photographs, linked here-

-for more on the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, visit here-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tee Teddie (Won't You Be My Teddy Bear?)

At 4x3 feet, Tee Teddie is anything but tee.  The painting, begun in 1995 and completed in 2013, first hung in Café Tee George, artist George Rodrigue’s original Lafayette restaurant, which was replaced by the Blue Dog Café after burning in 1997.  Tee Teddie was the only painting to escape the flames, while interpretations of Elvis, the Blue Dog, and Cajun traditions remain lost forever.

“I painted Tee Teddie to accompany Elvis and his Hound Dog on opposite walls of the restaurant’s bandstand,” recalls George.  “Café Tee George’s theme was early memorabilia, including cowboy comic book covers, old time metal signs, and personal items, such as my barber chair and 25-year crawfish collection.  All was lost or severely  damaged except Tee Teddie, which sustained only smoke damage, darkening its colors.”

(pictured, George’s mother, Marie Rodrigue, stands outside of Café Tee George, 1996, Lafayette, Louisiana; click photo to enlarge-)

As a child, Rodrigue was known as “Baby George” or “Tee George” because his father was George, Sr.  By high school, however, his friends called him “Big Rod,” and he lost the ‘tee’ reference until his restaurant opened in 1995, some thirty years later.  Tee Teddie combines these ideas, a huge painted bear and an endearing childhood reference to small.

The painting also recalls a series of works based on George’s notion of the Blue Dog wearing a bear suit, resulting in numerous images throughout the mid-1990s (some pictured here).

Following the fire, George stored the painting first in his Lafayette warehouse and then in our Carmel, California home, where it hung on the wall for more than a decade.  Although undamaged by fire, Tee Teddie seemed unfinished to George for years, more a symbol of a lost idea, something that escaped the flames but not his psyche.

“I thought of the painting for some reason recently and decided after all this time to restore it like it was.  Once I started, I realized how good it is, and I kept working, repainting it completely in my colors and style of today.” –George Rodrigue

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his finished Tee Teddie, February 2013, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

It’s interesting that after eighteen years George revisited this painting, as it's rare for him to revisit any work.  This is especially ironic since it hung in his Carmel studio, where he has not painted in nearly two years.  Nevertheless, he dreamed of finishing it and, to my surprise, shipped the painting to Louisiana just after Christmas, even as we relocate to California for a year or more later this month.

George spent much of the past two weeks restoring Tee Teddie, altering its earlier colors and removing wording that referenced the old restaurant.  He also chose a weighty, ornate frame for the giant, little bear, which hangs this week on public view for the first time in sixteen years, and for the first time ever in New Orleans.

(Update, 5/16/13; George Rodrigue completed a silkscreen print based on this painting.  Won't You Be My Teddy Bear? is a signed and numbered edition of 250; 40x30 inches; click photo to enlarge-)


*note, George asked that I destroy all previous photos of the painting, so that it begins anew as you see it here; thus I did not include any ‘before’ pictures-

-for information on this and other ‘dog in a bear suit’ paintings and silkscreens, contact Rodrigue Studio-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rodrigue's Cajun Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is not just about New Orleans.  Cities like Mobile, AL, Galveston, TX and my hometown of Fort Walton Beach, FL also celebrate.  In Louisiana, dozens of small towns host Mardi Gras parades and celebrations every year.

Long before his Mardi Gras posters, George Rodrigue painted the tradition on his own, recording favorite stories and focusing on Cajun towns.  For example, he loves the history of Mr. Butcher of Lafayette, who famously dressed every year in costume during the 1940s while everyone else wore suits to the parades.

-click photos throughout to enlarge-

“It’s hard to imagine today,” says George, “but people wore business and even formal attire on the streets.  No one but the riders costumed in those days.

“Butcher’s son showed me terrific photos of his dad dressed as a harlequin amidst the conservative crowd.  I liked the idea so much that I painted him three ways within one painting.” (1978, pictured above)

In Mamou, paraders ride horses in a group, moving from farm to farm collecting chickens.  At the end, the chickens end up in a huge gumbo for the crowds.

(pictured, Mardi Gras in Mamou, 1985 by George Rodrigue)

“Although I represented Mardi Gras in my paintings,” explains George, “it was several years before I did a poster.   Lafayette Mardi Gras krewes asked if I would illustrate their themes.  
"One of the earliest I remember was Broadway Shows.  It turned out to be very successful, because all of the krewe members bought posters.  Also, the local people preferred it to my regular Cajun paintings because of the bright colors.”

From this success, George went on to produce posters not only for Mardi Gras, but also for festivals and events such as the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the National Sports Festival, Ducks Unlimited, and Festivals Acadiens.

“Eventually, it seems like everyone came calling,” sighs George. 

He designed posters for medical organizations, the New Orleans Opera, Shreveport’s Red River Revel, the official Clinton/Gore inauguration poster, three posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and even Blue Dog at the Golden Gate for the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Francisco.

Today, however, because we raise funds for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA)…

“I no longer make festival and event posters.  Instead I implemented a Print Donation Program, beginning with Blue Dog Relief following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.  It’s been extremely successful in recent years, funding scholarships, art supplies for schools, art therapy, and other GRFA programs, as well as raising millions of dollars for other non-profits.” (details here-)

And to think, it all started with George’s Cajun Mardi Gras posters.

Founded in 1947 by the Cenac Family, Houma boasts the second largest Mardi Gras in Louisiana.  Wayne Fernandez, Director of Development for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, recalls his father as King in 1958:

“Houma borrowed the floats from the Krewe of Okeanos in New Orleans and shipped them on a river barge between the cities.  It was magical.”

George Rodrigue’s hometown of New Iberia called its Mardi Gras a “Carnival Dance.”  There was no parade until recent years, celebrated instead with a pageant.

(pictured, George Rodrigue with his cousin Arlene, dressed for New Iberia’s “Carnival Dance,” 1950)

Also unlike today, parades took varying routes.  Mike Evans of Gretna recalls his favorite parade, Poseidon:

“It traveled on the Westbank from Gretna to Westwego on 4th Street, on the Mississippi River at the levee.  My mom lived on Pailet Street and had a party every year – gumbo, hot dogs and chili.  The neighbors gathered, and it was the one time each year that I returned from college and saw everybody.  I miss those days!”

As a child I loved the Grela parade, a favorite in the small communities of Algiers, Gretna, and Belle Chasse on the New Orleans Westbank.  With my cousins, we waited on the curb for the parade, eating crawfish from a cooler by 8:00 a.m. before moving on to tamales for lunch. 

I dreamed but never imagined that I would one day ride on a Mardi Gras float.  And yet for the past decade, I’ve ridden in New Orleans with the all-female Krewe of Muses.  It’s not Cajun, but plenty of Cajuns ride, such as Cindy Cenac of Houma, pictured with me below for this year’s wondrous parade.


-related stories:
         Blue Dog Mardi Gras Silkscreens

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life Lessons and an Art Contest

George Rodrigue entered two art contests in his life and failed at both. By ‘failed,’ I'm not talking about losses, but more significant that he was disqualified or learned a hard lesson about cheating.

“Nothing in life is fair,” my mother used to say, and maybe she was right. But in the end perhaps that's not a bad thing. In George’s case his contest experiences taught him life lessons; they helped him understand people and, most important, that no one reaches their star by proxy. Either you work hard and make it on your own, or it doesn’t happen.

-click photos throughout to enlarge-

(pictured, although a different sort of art competition from the ones detailed in this post, George Rodrigue’s Honorable Mention from the Paris Salon, presented to the artist in 1974 on behalf of the French Government by Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, is among his proudest achievements; full story here-)

The first contest George entered was in 1954 at the Sears Roebuck Catalogue Store in New Iberia, Louisiana. In those days, according to George, the Sears store was nothing more than a small room with a row of catalogues and a woman behind the desk. 
In an effort to widen its reputation beyond automobile tires, Sears hired actor Vincent Price as their cultural ambassador. He traveled across the country with art exhibitions for the store.  It was one of these shows, in Baton Rouge, that first exposed George a few years later to paintings by professional artists.
In keeping with this direction, the New Iberia store, too small for an exhibition, held an art contest for local grade school students. They produced a coloring sheet so that each child worked on the same image.
“I knew that no one colored better than me in my class,” says George. “I remember going to Sears with my mother to turn in my picture, and I remember staring at that tool set, knowing it would be mine.” 

At age nine, recently recovered from polio, young George wanted nothing more than to win the child’s tool set offered as a prize. His mother, frugal since the Great Depression, was not fond of gifts, and if he didn’t win it, he knew he would never have one.
From an early age, if George wanted something beyond necessities such as food and clothing, it was up to him to buy it. By the time he was a teenager he earned money by working in his father’s tomb business and by selling his paintings of swamp monsters.
He also took the occasional portrait commission, until 1959, when the director of the local funeral home, George Burgess, refused to pay the agreed-upon price of fifty dollars.  For George, at age fifteen, this was a hard lesson learned, and the Burgess portrait hangs in his studio today, lest he forget.

(pictured, Portrait of Funeral Director George Burgess by George Rodrigue, 1959; collection of the artist)
He didn’t win the tool set. Rather, the boy who sat behind him in the third grade and who “couldn’t color at all” took it home. His aunt, the manager at the Sears Roebuck Catalogue Store and the contest's only judge, presented him with the prize.
Ten years later, in his early twenties, George Rodrigue entered his second and final art contest. It was in Morgan City, Louisiana, where he was disqualified from the start because the contest’s organizers thought he passed off antique landscape paintings as his own.   In other words, they assumed he cheated.
(pictured, George Rodrigue with a typical Rodrigue Landscape, 1971, Lafayette, Louisiana)

It’s ironic, given these unpleasant experiences, that George launched in 2009, through the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), an art contest for Louisiana high school students. With sixteen winners and $35,000 in scholarship awards, the first contest was an enormous success, as rewarding for George, I believe, as for the winners.  As a result, the now annual contest includes higher scholarships and cash awards, attracting hundreds of entries from across the state.

(pictured, Sean Hicks of Hackberry, Louisiana, the 2010 First Place Winner of the Rodrigue Foundation Art Contest)
Remembering the rigged Sears contest, he avoids judging, ensuring fairness as much as possible with guest judges and nameless entries. Remembering his own academic struggles, he eschews G.P.A. requirements, test scores, and declared majors, hoping all juniors and seniors in Louisiana, regardless of their grades, will find confidence in their creative abilities and give this competition a try.
George visits with the winners at a luncheon in their honor and follows their progress during the year, hosting an art show of their works within our foundation’s Education Center.   The exhibition travels to several venues throughout the state, including in the past the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, and the Masur Museum in Monroe.

(pictured above; 2012 First Place Senior Winner, Richie Smith of Monroe, LA; 2012 First Place Junior Winner, Katie Atkins of Lafayette, LA with Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, artist George Rodrigue, and GRFA Executive Director Jacques Rodrigue; Atkins’ winning artwork became the official poster for the Louisiana Bicentennial; 2011 First Place Winner, Savannah Bridges of Rayville, LA, following the balloon drop at the Awards Luncheon)

The 2013 GRFA Art Contest celebrates “Louisiana’s Culinary Heritage,” as participants create food-related artwork.  Partnering with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF), the contest culminates with presentations of $45,000 in college scholarships and awards and, unique to this year, a Fall 2013 cookbook featuring winning entries alongside recipes from Louisiana's greatest chefs.

“Louisiana is an international culinary melting pot,” says George Rodrigue.  “For centuries our food reflects a cultural history of adventurous cuisine.  Our state yields seafood, wild game and produce, providing home cooks and chefs with a wide variety of fresh local ingredients. These indigenous resources complement Louisiana’s cultural gumbo of French, Spanish, African, Italian and German flavors, influencing the food we 'live to eat.'  
“Our beloved Creole and Cajun culinary traditions encourage a vibrant restaurant industry, impacting our state’s economy with jobs and tourism. With GRFA and the Louisiana Restaurant Association, I invite Louisiana’s high school juniors and seniors to create a work of art representing our state’s unique culinary heritage while honoring its festivals, dishes and local ingredients.”

George and I look forward to meeting this year’s winners at the GRFA Art Contest Awards Luncheon at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, March 23, 2013.  For George, each year grows in meaning, as we attract more entrants and increase scholarship dollars.  In addition, the school with the most entries receives one year’s worth of art supplies through George’s Art Closet, further encouraging participation. 

This is a long way from those early art contests when young George Rodrigue learned hard lessons, now put to use in helping students.

“It gives me a lot of joy,” says George, “to sponsor in Louisiana a statewide art contest, because it provides excitement and goals for young artists.  It’s a friendly competition that, should they win, not only helps pay for their college, but also boosts their confidence.”


-deadline for entries for the 2013 George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) Art Contest is February 20, 2013; details here-

-see the 2012 GRFA Art Contest Winning Entries at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art through February 17, 2013; or view the artworks on-line at this link-

-see the 2013 GRFA Art Contest Winning Entries at the Old Post Office Museum, Winnsboro, LA, on view with George Rodrigue's Saga of the Acadians and Blue Dog paintings from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, March 28 to May 6, 2013-

-visit the website for the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts-

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook-

Best Blogger Tips