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Come One, Come All…And They Did

01/23/2017 03:23PM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux

Gallery: “Old Master’s Returned.” [0 Images] Click any image to expand.

Old Masters Returned – Part 2 

By Suzanne Ferrara

“It was marvelous, just marvelous, and I think it is one of the most wonderful continuing art activities that the library puts on!” exclaims a passionate Becky Collins, a New Iberia veteran art teacher also known by students as ‘Aunt Becky.’ The Iberia Parish Library is abuzz with creativity and oozing colorful artwork following its bi-annual exhibit titled “Old Master’s Returned.”

Participants from all over Acadiana, from Breaux Bridge to Morgan City, as young as 5 years old and as old as 85 turned in their works of art, most of whom were complete novices.  “We had 152 paintings, and of those 110 were young students and 42 were adults,” says 89-year-old Elaine Griffin, the exhibit coordinator.

There are no biases in art, and that reigned true at this particular exhibit, which has been near and dear to Iberia Parish—and a huge success—for well over a decade.  “There’s no right or wrong. It’s all about creating your own unique piece and expressing yourself,” says Griffin. “It’s nice to see how people interpret things, especially the children.  In my book, they are all winners!” 

Participants chose from 22 different old master prints, which Griffin selected from the library’s art books.  Contributors then created their own interpretations of the works of art, using any material of their choosing, although those interpretations couldn’t be any larger than 20’ by 24.’

Jack Sperry, 85-year-old retired dentist, took Vincent van Gogh’s “Morning Going to Work” and recreated a very colorful piece that caught a lot of attention.  Sperry replaced the farmer and his wife with cartoon character Sponge Bob Squarepants and another Sponge Bob character, both seen riding a seahorse.

Steve Seneca, a 57-year-old amateur painter recreated Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players.”  Hanging above the guys playing cards is a painting in which Seneca added George Rodrigue’s iconic Blue Dog.  Thrown into this eclectic mix was New Iberia Senior High art teacher Theresa Cason whose formation of Monet’s “In the Woods at Giverny” was done in clay.

While nothing can compare to the reward of expressing oneself, the night of the actual show was certainly a huge payoff for many.  “The library was filled with creative energy!” adds Collins whose students have participated in the event for years. “We had a house-full, and it was wonderful.” Collins isn’t alone in that feeling: Sami Haggood, the Iberia Parish Library’s Community Relations Coordinator, finds the enthusiasm downright infectious. “It was remarkable to see young and old, new and familiar faces all together celebrating art,” she says. 

Amid the 100-plus show attendees in the packed library was Loreauville Elementary School 5th grader, Viley Kate Borne, who got an invaluable opportunity she wouldn’t have received anywhere else.  Through the invitation of her teacher, Borne and her fellow students entered their pieces into the exhibit.  

Borne proudly recreated Mary Cassatt’s “Children playing on the Beach,” but through her own interpretation. Instead of the two girls in the original painting, Borne only highlighted the one in the foreground.  “I learned how to use the watercolor process for the first time. I really enjoyed the art show, especially seeing the different interpretations of the pieces,” says Borne sincerely.  “I also liked the way Mr. Sami went around and congratulated the artists because it made me feel special.”

Cynthia Alleman, Borne’s instructor who teaches art on a rotating basis at six schools a week says, “It puts things in perspective for them because my kids are so young, and they don’t get this kind of exposure.  It is good for them to see professional artists involved, too.”  Alleman, who entered two pieces herself, says the exhibit it is a good opportunity for her students to get exposed to the masters’ work.  Another one of Alleman’s art students, 8-year-old Patra Liamkeo, painted a beautiful bunny going after a carrot with her take on Henri Matisse’s abstract work, “The horse, horseman and clown.” 

But for those not fortunate enough to partake in art classes, perhaps one of the biggest triumphs for those Acadiana youth was the rare opportunity and a chance of a lifetime.  As funding and placement for the arts in schools nationwide has dwindled, this exhibit plays a critical role in instilling love and joy for art. 

This especially holds true for 12-year-old Maria Parrie, who went on YouTube to learn a few art techniques for the piece she turned in for exhibit.  Parrie chose the “Two Dancers,” another Henri Matisse work, and used mixed media to create her own interpretation.  Parrie, who has never taken formal art classes, painted her stick figures and gave them sequin outfits which some at the show said resembled contestants from “Dancing with the Stars.”  She also added a trail of feathers, along with a headdress of feathers, for the female dancer leaping into the arms of her male partner who is wearing a blue sequined straight tie.

Among the handful of professional artists who took part in the exhibit was Iberia Parish School System’s GT program art instructor, Paul Schexnayder, who used the Old Masters Returned in his student’s talent program.  Schexnayder also entered one of his own pieces, a painting befitting of his own motif, and says the show was very interesting…to say the least.  “You had almost straightforward copies, to a little traditional in their own style, to something completely abstract while still retaining the integrity of the painting.” 

In a fascinating display, exhibit organizers placed the master copy in the center and posted participants’ work all around it.  “It’s almost same world, but different planet.  They’re all given the same image, yet  the interpretation is as varied as a gumbo,” adds Schexnayder.

Griffin, meanwhile, says if it hadn’t been for 88-year-old Al Landry, architect, painter and the former owner of New Iberia’s Lagniappe Too Restaurant, the Old Master’s Program wouldn’t have ‘restarted’ because Landry suggested it to her years ago.  

On that same note, Griffin, who has tirelessly put on these exhibits, is passing on the torch.  Griffin is now almost 90 years old and says that while the shows have been a huge joy in her life, it’s time to move on.  In a metaphorical farewell Griffin says “It’s my Swan Song.” (In ancient belief, the swan, which is silent most of its life, sings a beautiful song just before death.) 

“Elaine Griffin has done such a service to so many people: to adults, giving them an opportunity to be creative, and certainly to the children because she has opened this up to children at all ages,” adds Collins.  Haggood concurs, “We will have to keep it going because of what it means to so many people.  It’s now about what the next project will be, and we welcome anyone from the community to help out because as you can see here, it’s not just a library project; it’s about all walks of life celebrating art.”

Life+Leisure, Today, In Print Old Master’s Returned Iberia Parish Library Becky Collins Elaine Griffin Suzanne Ferrara

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