“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.
...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.”
"…. 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-)