An Artist’s Bountiful Soul
● By Robert Frey
By Suzanne Ferrara
There is no adjective that could describe the emotions artists endure when pouring out their hearts and souls to help their fellow man. After all, artists hold the intrinsic ability to share a profound communion with the world on an emotional level that is incomprehensible to most. Combine that with the gift to reach and touch people in ways no one else can, and you have the power to heal through an art form.
These Acadiana creators are the architects of our unique cultural expression of strength, love and endurance. Just as our ancestors did, these artists rose to the occasion by using their hard work, talents and souls to uplift those swept away by the historic flood. Herein lies their deep expression of their love to enliven those who have lost so very much.
Divine Power of Music
“It’s a very special feeling on the inside, and sometimes it’s very hard to explain.” Those are the words from a passionate Wayne Toups after performing at the recent Acadiana Strong concert, a show he organized to help flood victims. Toups says playing music at concerts like this, rather than a festival, strikes a different emotional chord. “Looking out in the crowd and knowing this whole event was going for a good cause definitely made us feel different on stage.”
With his deep, smooth voice, Toups reflects on his God-given talent. “I am blessed in so many ways and I feel so lucky to have the ability to help someone through music. It makes your chest stick out a little bit knowing that we are using the talent God gave us to help someone in need.” Toups witnessed that need when he and his wife drove around Acadiana to see the devastation. “I saw water I never saw before, and we both said we have to do something to help our friends and fans devastated by this flood.”
So Toups reached out to his friends in the music world and quickly put together an unbeatable lineup including Kix Brooks (from Brooks and Dunn) and Hunter Hayes. Hayes, too, could not turn his back on the people of Acadiana. “I grew up around these incredible people and I have seen time and time again how they pull together in a time of need,” says Hayes. “This event is such a great example of the incredible heart of Acadiana and how much strength they have through tough times.” Toups agrees. “We were raised to help one another. We always have and always will come together as a community whenever something of this magnitude happens.”
And still others answered the call. Wilson Savoy, son of two Cajun musicians and leader of the Pine Leaf Boys, also shared his melodic talent to those devastated by the storm at another fundraiser. “We were spared the ravages of the flood and so many were not,” says Savoy. “There were a few music studios, not to mention quite a few musicians, who lost all of their vehicles, their instruments, and of course, their houses are in terrible shape from the floods.”
Without a blink of an eye, Savoy squeezed his accordion with the same selfless passion that also runs through the veins of Toups and Hayes. “I feel that giving back with music was the way to go for me. If the least we can do is play a few tunes and donate the proceeds to help a few people buy some new clothes and sheetrock, it’s a drop in the bucket; but as I said before, all it takes to make a flood is a drop after drop after drop.”
All are aware of the medicinal effect of music. “We’re not just playing the songs, we are the songs; and knowing that we can contribute this way with the talents the good Lord gave us and making people smile for a little bit, is a very warm feeling,” says Toups. Savoy echoes those feelings. “If we can help take their stress away for a few minutes, and offer music to dance, we succeeded.” And that they did, as the people of our area, and their collective caring heart, answered the call of Acadiana’s healing music and helped raise over $100,000.
Images of Hope
To say a picture speaks a thousand words is an understatement, especially when you look at the creations of Iberia Parish artists Paul Schexnayder and Trent Oubre. Their works are derived from their profound artistic souls, and their pieces “Onward” and “Perseverance” share the same theme, evoke similar emotions and are both steeped in Acadiana culture. Both creators decided to use their paintings to help raise funds for those affected by the flood and both paintings took only a few hours to complete. These works of art are born from two different artists who had deep desires to release on canvas their individual styles and personal emotions about Mother Nature’s wrath.
For Trent Oubre, “Perseverance” was an emotional release created after he became a victim of Katrina’s in New Orleans and lost everything in the process. “Although this (August 2016) particular flood didn’t affect me, I knew what all of the victims were going through and that was hard,” says a sympathetic Oubre. The painting depicts a man holding a fiddle while the water rises around him. “He won’t let go, knowing the water will subside and life will move on. That’s where I got the name, ‘Persevere,’ that’s what he’s doing and that’s what we do.” With the help of his friend Gus Rezende, Oubre was able to promote and organize a fundraising effort to help flood victims. “The response I got was overwhelming and unexpected.”
About the same time the water was rising, artist Paul Schexnayder was painting “Onward” at a feverish pace in New Iberia. Schexnayder, who has been tracking storms and hurricanes since he was a boy, decided to create the colorful piece when he witnessed the fury of the flood. “Onward” portrays five people in a flat boat surrounded by flood waters being led by a brown pelican which represents hope, and among those in the boat is a couple holding hands and dancing atop an alligator, (Schexnayder’s Happy Cajun Logo). “I saw people being rescued and I, too, went to help my family and friends. I lived it and did it.”
“The real emotional part for me was when some people whose homes flooded saw it on Facebook and asked if they could make it their homepage.” From there, requests poured in for prints and that’s when Schexnayder decided to turn the work of art into a fundraiser. “They identified with it; it affected them and that’s what you want art to do: create a feeling.”
The Eternal Encore
These aesthetic treasures, whether created through music or paintings, were all born from the depths of their selfless creators, artists whose hearts guided the way and produced a beacon of light in a time of human challenge. These expressions of the spirit heal us and at the same time remind us of the immeasurable value of giving back. As Toups said, this kind of love runs through an artist’s veins. “This is who we are, this is what we do.”