Friday, October 20, 2017

Don’t Slow Me Down

In the spring of 2013 George Rodrigue and I drove our truck cross-country from New Orleans, Louisiana to Carmel, California, as we had twice annually for twenty years, finding adventure on alternate routes and detours along the way. 


We didn’t know that this would be our last road trip; however, we did travel with a secret.   We learned while passing through Houston that George’s cancer had returned.  But we told no one, opting to shelve this unwelcome news, as well as the impending treatments, until after the drive.

We made the most of every moment ---not because we didn’t think he would beat it (we did!), but because that’s how we rolled on these road trips, as we focused on our conversations, on the scenery, and on the world spread before us.  -photograph by George Rodrigue, southern Utah, 2013-


In Mojave, sixty miles east of Bakersfield, California, on Hwy 58, we stopped at a roadside stand and perused ceramic statuary.  
Ignoring the 100-degree heat, George became captivated by the life-size, colorful tortoises on display.  He purchased two adults and a baby, emptying and rearranging the loaded truck to fit them.

That evening, after we arrived home in California following three weeks on the road, he placed the tortoises beneath the lace oaks surrounding his studio.  During the following months, he photographed them and played with designs in his computer.  He placed one of the images in a TO DO file on his desktop, where I later discovered it.


(Pictured:  Don’t Slow Me Down, designed 2013 by George Rodrigue, printed 2017 by his estate, 26x38 inches, edition 90, learn more-)

Simultaneously, George explored the tortoises in paint.  This related unfinished painting is one of three he was working on in the last months of his life. The original canvas and the baby ceramic tortoise are on view at Rodrigue Studio New Orleans until March 2018 during the special exhibition Rodrigue’s Heartland:  Under the Oaks and Out of the Swamp.


Another uncompleted painting is a dog-in-a-landscape, which sits on George’s easel at the Bayou Teche Museum in New Iberia, Louisiana, where his California studio was moved and reassembled last year as a permanent installation in his hometown.


Finally, the third unfinished painting is a return to the traditional Rodrigue landscape, with tombs beneath the oaks and a river extending towards a small, bright horizon.  That canvas, as well as three completed artworks, accompanies me on a statewide Louisiana school tour this fall.  Learn more.


Are you afraid?  I asked George one evening in December 2013, as I lay my head on his chest, matching my breath to his.  

"No!"  he replied.  "It’s an adventure!"

Among his last artworks, Don’t Slow Me Down is a poignant reference to Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. This happy image, created as George’s health severely declined, speaks of life's journey, combined with the value of patience, perseverance, and humility ---- all while traveling the road to a brighter future. 

But we take all our adventures together, I replied.

“But you can’t come on this one, Wendy…."


“…Not yet.”

Wendy


"Once in his life, a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe.  He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it.  He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.  He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind.  He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk."  -N. Scott Momaday

-Rodrigue's Heartland:  Under the Oaks and Out of the Swamp honors George Rodrigue's lifelong exploration in paint and sculpture of the Louisiana Landscape, both real and imagined. On view through March 17, 2018 in New Orleans. Learn more.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What did he look like? …A LAA+ Tour

It was last spring that a young student at The Dufrocq School, a Louisiana A+ School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana asked me the most basic of questions:  “What did he look like?”

Thrown off, I could only think Where’s my phone? (in my purse) followed quickly by Where’s my purse? (on the other side of the room) followed quickly by How do I navigate this sea of children to reach it? (very carefully in my size 10 feet) ---before an on-the-ball teacher deftly circulated George Rodrigue’s photograph from her iPad.


This simple scenario haunts me, because George’s face and voice and mannerisms are imprinted in me so strongly that I near-panicked at the thought that others don’t know, or worse, won’t know the Blue Dog Man.  

This is particularly important for school children because so many of them find inspiration within his artwork.  It’s also important because the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), a non-profit organization established by George Rodrigue in 2009, influences the education of thousands of students through an annual scholarship art contest, art supplies for schools, and arts integration through Louisiana A+ Schools.  Under the leadership of George's son, GRFA Executive Director Jacques Rodrigue, the foundation's Mission Statement reads,

"GRFA advocates the importance of the arts in the development of our youth.  We encourage the use of art within all curriculums and support a variety of art educational programs."

I envisioned a plan.  As has happened repeatedly since George passed away, I find that whatever the needs are for his art, he has already provided the answer.  That was the case with the I VOTED sticker, the Rosemary Beach Sculpture Exhibition, and most recently the Hurricane Harvey relief prints.  What better way to answer What did he look like? than with George's own artistic interpretation!


(Be sure and click the photo for a closer look and to read-)

George’s iconic Rodrigue signature accompanies his iconic portrait in the same way he used it as a design element within his Cajun and Blue Dog prints for years. (See examples here-)

To distribute these special artworks, to be hung prominently within each Louisiana A+ School, I enlisted the help of LAA+ Executive Director Bethany France.  


(Pictured:  With Messiah Montessori Lead Teacher Monique Breaux and LAA+ Schools Executive Director Bethany France, October 13, 2017 at Messiah Montessori School in Houma, Louisiana)

Over the years, George and I visited hundreds of schools together, engaging with students through art demonstrations and discussions.  It took time for me to re-envision these experiences without him. 

(Pictured:  With George Rodrigue at Liza Jackson Preparatory School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, 2011; preparing for a visit with students last week at South Highlands Elementary School in Shreveport, Louisiana)



In 2013, following our last school visit together, George observed….

"It's the kids who bridge the art.  To be studied by a child is the best way to connect with the future and is more important than hanging on the walls with the great masters.  It took a grammar school teacher and students to help me see this perspective, and it gave both me and Wendy a completely different view and impact, and maybe even a new beginning."

*Read and see more from our visit to North Park Elementary School in Valencia, California, pictured below, here-



For this Fall 2017 statewide tour of eighteen LAA+ Schools, Bethany France helped me formulate a plan, complete with an unveiling of George’s portrait, along with classroom visits with as many children as possible. 


Most special, I share original Rodrigue paintings from our home ---a refreshing alternative to reproductions and power points--- and in many cases the first original Rodrigue artwork the students have ever seen.



(Pictured above:  With Dr. Jules Boquet at Messiah Montessori School in Houma, Louisiana – a LAA+ School)

"The donation of these beautiful prints supports the growth of arts-integrated learning throughout Louisiana,” explains Bethany France.  “I believe that Mr. George Rodrigue would be very proud of the commitment to innovative learning and the importance of implementing the arts into every aspect of the classroom as demonstrated in Louisiana A+ Schools."  



(Pictured:  Visiting Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana --- a LAA+ School)

Touring Louisiana A+ Schools is a natural for me to further honor George.  He believed, as do I, in arts integration in all aspects of life ---especially education--- which is why the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts has supported LAA+ Schools from its inception.  




(Pictured:  With Principal Mary Harris at South Highlands Elementary Magnet School in Shreveport, Louisiana – a LAA+ School)

I’m now two weeks into this ten-week tour and am witness to exciting and creative academic lessons shaped by the visual and performing arts.  Students, teachers, and administrators are both inspired and inspiring, in an environment where school participation is motivated by a real passion and joy for teaching and learning!


Admittedly, I began this tour feeling bittersweet. However, that has shifted to elation, as I see students and teachers come to know George in a personal, meaningful, and memorable way.  I'm truly enjoying this tour and am grateful to the schools for allowing me to share with them. It is my life's work, since 1991, to educate others ---through exhibitions, lectures, school visits, and writing--- about the life and art of George Rodrigue.  

Furthermore, it is in large part because of George's efforts that the arts are a daily and integral part of the educational experience at the Louisiana A+ Schools; and it is imperative that every student recognizes not only his art and name, but also his kind and beautiful face.


Gotta run..... Can't be late for school!
Wendy

-pictured above:  Third grade students at South Highlands in Shreveport, following their stellar, heartfelt performance of On the Shoulders of Giants, a musical by John Jacobson and Mac Huff; the entrance to Grace Episcopal School in Monroe.  Both are LAA+ Schools-

-Louisiana A+ Schools is now accepting applications for the 2018-19 school year; for information on this fall tour schedule or questions about LAA+, contact Bethany France at Bethany@aplusla.org; also visit www.aplusla.org

-for information on the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, visit www.rodriguefoundation.org 

-photographs at Louisiana A+ Schools by Douglas Magnus-

-read a related article from Houma Today here-




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