Art Walks in Acadiana
● By Aimee Cormier
By Lyndsy Bradley • Submitted Photos
Artists, both native-born and immigrant, are drawn to South Louisiana’s rich and varied history. Acadiana’s diverse population and its uniquely lush and endearingly humid sub-tropical setting heavily contribute to today’s art scene.
In spite of its deep French roots, South Louisiana is an amalgamation of Native American, African, Acadian and Spanish; all melding to create the historic and contemporary art landscape Acadiana is known for. It’s no surprise the area is swarming with varied art walks and events celebrating this history.
Known as the hub of Acadiana, Lafayette was first settled by Acadian Jean Mouton in 1821 and became a safe haven for Acadians, and later Creoles, thus creating a unique heritage and culture all its own.
Downtown Lafayette draws visitors and locals in with a larger than life sculpture of Opelousas native, Civil War General Alfred Mouton. The monument is one of several sculptures and murals located downtown. A local scavenger hunt, which can be found at www.downtownlafayette.org, challenges art lovers to find them all.
Downtown is also home to Lafayette’s monthly 2nd Saturday ArtWalk, showcasing artwork in more than a dozen galleries, museums, restaurants and shops. Some stops feature live music, food, and drink –including free wine in typical South Louisiana bacchanalian fashion - and of course, art.
Brian Guidry, chief curator at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W Vermilion St., says from Feb. 21-May 9, University of Louisiana at Lafayette visual arts professor Allan Jones will present a retrospect of his works spanning 50 years in the main gallery. If visual art isn’t stimulating enough, Laci Lopez, owner of The Vertical Barre, 215 Garfield St., says visitors are welcome to try the art of Zen at April’s ArtWalk with a free yoga class from 6 – 7:15 p.m. led by teacher in training, Mary Payne.
Acadian local, Lucas Menard, whose larger than life portrait of Neil Degrasse Tyson can be found on the side of downtown Lafayette’s Science Museum, will also be at Lopez’s studio “where he’s going to be working on a surprise piece,” says Lopez.
If one day of art downtown isn’t satisfying, there’s always Festival International de Louisiane on April 22-26, where French-speakers from around the world come to Lafayette to perform music and showcase their art at the Marché des Arts.
With a backdrop of plush scenery running along part of the 120-mile-long winding Bayou Teche, New Iberia has managed to preserve its unique history, which began in 1779 under Spanish Gov. Bernardo de Gálvez during the Colonial Era.
Boasting the Tabasco® hot sauce factory and Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, America’s oldest rice mill and the Gulf South’s first National Trust for Historic Preservation house museum, it’s only natural that New Iberia is home to artists inspired by their surroundings.
Sponsored by the New Iberia Arts and Cultural Commission and the New Iberia Main Street Program, the town hosts Downtown ArtWalk several times per year, where local artists congregate downtown to showcase their work.
The next Downtown ArtWalk is slated to begin May 2 at 4 p.m., beginning at Shadows-on-the-Teche, 317 E. Main St., following Main
Street to Railroad Avenue, then to A&E and NILA Gallery on West St. Peter Street.
Pat Kahle is the director at Shadows-on-the-Teche, New Iberia’s 180-year-old historic antebellum home that was placed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which offers daily guided tours. Kahle says Shadows-on-the-Teche “will probably have work from our April 11-18 Plein Air event on display for the Art Walk.”
The Inaugural Shadows-on-the-Teche Plein Air Competition will choose qualifying Plein Air artists on merit of the JPEG images submitted for completion. Winner will be awarded up to $1,500.
Kahle says Shadows-on-the-Teche also has an artist in residence program funded by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, with a visual artist and a performing artist, both of whom are creating new works based on their research in Shadows’ archives and collections.
“The program is called Art & Shadows,” says Kahle, “featuring Lynda Frese and David Greely, and we are having a preview party on Friday, May 8 and an Open House on Saturday, May 9.”
“Art & Shadows is an interpretive art project,” says visual artist and University of Louisiana at Lafayette 2013 Distinguished Professor Lynda Frese. “The idea is to have people explore their own relationship with history through the art works, especially the history of Louisiana, the Civil War, slavery and all the people who lived and worked at Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation. Part of my project is about the land itself, so you can see different plants in each of the pictures.”
Frese’s work as an artist-in-residence is a hauntingly beautiful series juxtaposing the past and the present. It was created in a studio at the 180-year-old structure on the Bayou Teche, “surrounded by very old gardens” where she took advantage of natural light, “even on rainy days - very 19th century!”
Frese created the series using egg tempera over collage compositions made with her own photographs of the land and buildings, featuring found objects she photographed from the site’s collection including books, photos and textiles.
“There are so many textiles in the attic!” Frese exclaims. “I love looking at the clothing, and have incorporated all kinds of peoples’ clothing images into my collages. It can be very intimate and evocative.
“One very special part of this residency has been working with my friend David Greely, who is the musician artist-in-residence,” says Frese. “I listen to him practice and compose music while I am painting, and we have spent many hours discussing the history of this place and its larger context in American history. It has been such a rare pleasure to work on site at the Shadows as an artist-in-residence.”
The quaint city of Franklin based in St. Mary Parish was founded in 1808 as Carlin’s Settlement and named after Benjamin Franklin. Early settlers included people of French, Scottish and English descent. Various large sugar plantations were constructed in the area during the 1800s, and with the development of steam boating, became an interior sugar port. The still-standing and well-preserved grand plantation homes and mansions were built as a result of the prominent sugar industry.
Like the slow and sweet process of manufacturing sugar, Franklin is producing its own burgeoning art scene; the city is engaging in an ambitious plan to revitalize its downtown Historic District by facilitating community space and instilling a sense of local quality. This year the city of Franklin held its sixth annual Promenade d’art de Franklin (Franklin Art Walk) in conjunction with the 2015 Juvenile Officers Association Conference on March 4.
“Normally, it is held in August, which is very hot,” says Arlana Shields, Franklin’s Community Development Director. “This was a good time to begin having the event in the spring. There were about 250 people in attendance. The artists are placed within the businesses of merchants in Franklin’s downtown district. Therefore, it’s a night of art and shopping locally.”
Promenade d’art de Franklin took place at the striking Greek temple, Shadowlawn, and various local businesses like Meyer’s Shoe Store, Beleeza Boutique, and Chic and Shabby Collections located along Franklin’s Main Street.
“This Art walk was the most successful one we’ve had since it started,” says nature, landscape and local architecture photographer Debbie Tibbs. “I think what helped build part of the success is that we have two new businesses downtown that are flea markets and antique stores. Each one has booths with different and creative businesses.
“Those business owners, along with all of our other downtown businesses did a great job of promoting Promenade d’art de Franklin through social media, in our local newspaper and also the City of Franklin promoted it as well,” adds Tibbs, who has a booth at Chic & Shabby where she houses her art along with a line of chalk type paint and painted furniture.