History Isn’t A Mystery
● Published by Aimee Cormier
Girl Scouts Of Troop 2192 Create A Historical Mural
By Shanna Perkins
History is not always preserved by those closest to it. It occasionally falls into the hands of younger generations. This was the case when two 14-year-old Girl Scouts with pink-tipped hair decided to create a piece of artwork that would depict New Iberia’s history in the way they believe it deserves to be showcased.
While on the annual Girl Scout scavenger hunt, Carmen Gonsoulin and Alyssa Bertrand made a discovery they couldn’t ignore.
“We were on our Girl Scout scavenger hunt,” recalls Alyssa. “We were walking behind Allain’s Jewelry on the walkway along the bayou. We saw all of these white squares hanging on a wall. You could tell they had something written on them, but you couldn’t read it anymore. Carmen’s aunt told us that it used to be a timeline and that’s where it all started.”
The girls, who ping pong back and forth between each other in conversations like sisters, decided they wanted to recreate the timeline in a way that would add both beauty and history to the community. They decided that the Steamboat Pavilion, 102 W Main St., would be the ideal canvas for the mural they were dreaming up. But first, they had to get approval from the New Iberia City Council.
“We had to go in front of the city council and basically present the idea to make sure we had permission to do it,” Carmen explains flashing a bright green manicure. “We had to make sure that we could do it inside the Steamboat Pavilion because it’s city property. The meeting went fabulous!”
With the city’s blessing the girls set to work. They sifted through the existing timeline, which ended in the 1960s, and decided what stood out as the more defining moments in New Iberia’s history. Then, they added Mount Carmel, the Evangeline Theatre and the Essene Theatre. All that was left was to find someone to bring their vision to life.
Through her involvement with IPAL and St. Edward School, Carmen’s mom, Jenny Gonsoulin, was introduced to Jimmy Rink’s murals, and she decided that he was the man for the job. “I had arraigned for Jimmy to be involved because he just really wants art to be exhibited throughout the community,” Jenny says. Jimmy began meeting with the girls to cohesively translate the events on their timeline into art.
“The girls decided that they wanted to put together a mural that wasn’t an overly formal timeline. They wanted to have a little discourse to it,” says Jimmy whose work includes the impressive murals on Hopkins Street, St. Edwards School and the IPAL theatre. “When they approached me about this, I told them I’d be glad to do it. I told them it’d be most gratifying to me if they’d be involved, and of course, they agreed to that.”
Jimmy, Carmen and Alyssa all agreed on a draft to be transferred to the wall of the Steamboat Pavilion. The center portion focuses on the French and Spanish settlers with their ships depicted in the foreground. The artwork curves around to include the sugar mill, the salt mine, the Tabasco® plant, the Shadows-on-the-Teche, the flood of 1927 and other historically significant events.
“Jimmy painted these faux windows into the mural and he’s going to depict the flood through them,” explains Alyssa’s mom Nicole Bertand. “You’re going to think you’re looking through windows, but your actually looking back into history,” interject her daughter whose arm is splashed with blue paint from working on the mural.
At its core, this project is about community. It’s being created for the community’s enjoyment and that same community is helping create it. Alyssa and Carmen want the mural to be something that New Iberia takes pride and ownership in. So when it came time to raise funds, they turned to their family, friends and neighbors – who responded with overwhelming support. The Steamboat Pavilion is a favorite hangout for skateboarders; and as they watch the mural develop, Jimmy explains that they’ve been eager to lend a helping hand whenever they’re in the area. The mural’s inspiration is deeply embedded in a historical sense of community.
“For me, I’m trying to concentrate on the arrival of the two groups of people who came to the area and eventually became united – the Spanish and the French,” Jimmy explains. “I want to get the idea across that these two people came together in a communal effort to begin building this city.”
In addition to being a source of pride for New Iberia residents, one of the girls’ hopes is that the mural will give tourists insight into the area in an innovative way. “It helps out the community and that’s what this project is all about, but we want tourists to see that New Iberia has so much to offer,” Alyssa states. “It will help people who don’t know a lot about New Iberia learn more in a really interesting way,” Carmen says finishing Alyssa’s sentence.
Alyssa and Carmen’s advancement up the Girl Scout ranks hinges upon the completion of the project. The girls have their sights set on the Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn. To receive the prestigious award, Cadettes must complete a journey prior to beginning their project. In this case, the journey is through history. The girls must complete 50 hours of service each on a project that will leave a lasting impact on their community. Carmen and Alyssa will continue to experience the pride associated with their work long after the paint dries on the mural and their Silver Awards lose their shine.
“These two girls have been friends since Pre-K. They’ve been best friends for the past five years and they’ve been in Scouts together for almost nine years,” Jenny says thoughtfully. “In 20 years, they can bring their own children to see this and say ‘I did this.’”