An Alligator On Iberia Street
Gallery: The Striking New Mural [8 Images] Click any image to expand.
The Story Behind The Striking New Mural
By Scott Brazda | Photos By Fusion Photography
“Back in November, a mural I was planning to start in Mississippi was delayed,” begins Mary Lacy. “So, I headed over to my next site, to New Iberia, and I walked downtown where I found this wall on Iberia Street. I figured out who the owner was, told him what I wanted to do, and he said, ‘Sure.’ It was just wonderful to find a building owner who was open to creativity and not afraid of it. Just willing to support this….”
“This what,” I asked.
“…This random girl in a bucket truck,” Lacy retorts.
The random girl in a bucket truck—with a 32-foot boom off the top--- would prove to be someone special, someone who was bringing something special to the city of New Iberia. “I had a vision of a road trip, a daydream coming to life,” explains the 24-year-old Lacy. Her wish? To visit 10 parts of the country and paint a mural in each of those communities. For free.
“I wanted to go to smaller places because, as a girl from Jericho, Vt., I identify more with smaller places. To put it this way, a mural in New Iberia means a lot more to me than a mural in Miami.”
It was all set in motion about a year ago, and when Lacy pitched the idea to the Benjamin Moore Paint Company (“I just wanted free paint,” she laughs), the company surprised her in a big way. “’Sure, we’ll give you the paint,’ they said, ‘but we want to document your trip.’” So Benjamin Moore Paint Company is sponsoring the tour, one in which Lacey has complete control… except for the selection of one location, the home of one of the company’s favorite retailers:
“She sent us an email with a list of colors she needed, and let me tell you, it was something,” recalls Bridgett Romero of Bayou Paints. “She wanted red and purple and yellow and pink. ‘All of these colors to paint an alligator?’ I asked my husband.”
But what an alligator it turned out to be. 100-by-25 feet on a building off Iberia Street, and on the long wall, it’s not a swamp scene; nope, it’s all alligator. “It’s not the most visible spot, so at first I wasn’t sure about the wall she found,” says Janet Faulk-Gonzales, President of the Iberia Chamber of Commerce. “But then, as she started to work, I noticed that the wall has lots of different textures, and that gives the alligator dimension.”
“The wall has a couple of different kinds of bricks,” agrees Lacy, “and that made me feel like it was alligator skin.” An alligator by itself? Not depicted in a stereotypical swamp scene? “I tried to make it like that alligator is just walking down the street. I want to make it look like the alligator belongs, that it’s part of the urban landscape.”
“It’s like a subtle presence, but at the same time, a dynamic presence,” adds Faulk-Gonzales. “On second glance, it’s big and powerful. I mean, it’s an alligator that’s a story-and-a- half high!”
Being a muralist was never part of the plan.
“I was pretty into sports, especially soccer,” remembers Lacy. “Although, I did have to take a mandatory painting class back at my Vermont high school.” A severe injury, however, derailed her athletic dreams, and art became a new outlet for her. “One door closes, another one opens. Once I started doing things that would maybe get my name out there a little bit, I’d have people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, in kindergarten you always drew the prettiest rainbows.’ Well, that was news to me.”
Still, art was on the back burner until college where Lacy studied history and politics. But those two subjects would take her back, or better said, move her forward, all with art at the forefront. “You study community development and community projects, and art plays a pretty big role. Suddenly, I had a big epiphany and came back to it.”
The tour around America—in a bucket truck-- began last September in the town of Chester, Pa., and after that, most of the towns on Lacy’s mural list were of the smaller variety: Greenville, Ms., Greenwood, Ms. and Savannah, Ga. “I do have to admit, though, that the second stop was New York City. There were just so many possibilities there,” she laughs. New Iberia was stop number six, followed by El Paso, Texas and she’ll finish with Gallup, N.M., Portland, Ore., and Bethel, Maine by late June or early July, roughly 10 months after she started.
Lacy has enjoyed her journey, and the help she’s gotten from residents in her mural-infused communities has simply overwhelmed her. “Every single place has been completely different,” she says. “I guess my purpose as I prepared for the trip was to find great organizations or incredible individuals who are dedicated to their communities.”
So, about New Iberia…..
“I thought it was going to be more like New Orleans,” says Lacy. “I’d been there once, and that’s what my perception of Louisiana was. I was really surprised by the diversity of Louisiana.”
And when a young lady (Lacy) showed up in New Iberia driving a bucket truck and started painting a wall, well, residents took notice, and the exchange of ideologies took place, in both directions. “For the most part, I come from a different world politically, and to spend time with other view points and perspectives was very eye-opening. For example, I had never met anyone who worked in the oil field.”
The alligator doesn’t cover every inch of the wall on Iberia Street, but it is quite impressive, and the reception among residents has been extremely positive. “We had a little old lady come into the store and say, ‘Thank you for being a part of the mural,’” says Romero. “You’d have thought we’d given her a $50,000 check, she was so touched by Mary’s mural.”
City officials have taken note as well, and hope Lacy’s mural will provide some artistic stimulation. “We have so many artists that have come from New Iberia,” says Mayor Freddie DeCourt. “And it really is my hope that something like this will wake up our cultural side. New Iberia has had a scarcity of public art for quite some time, and now, this really cool alligator has people walking by or driving by, and just rubbernecking to try and see it!”
And then, there’s the business side of things. A wonderful alligator that has people saying “Wow,” explains Faulk-Gonzales, could give New Iberia a boost in non-artistic ways, too. “In terms of downtown development, the building whose exterior wall has the alligator, is actually very beautiful inside, and it would be great if this mural can inspire someone to walk inside and take a closer look at that building.”
“The alligator,” she continues, “is a good lead to New Iberia.”
And what now? Benjamin Moore Paint Company hired a videographer who chronicled a number of Lacy’s mural projects, and has posted those videos on the company’s website. “As a body of work, the videos and the murals show there’s a lot of commonality in these stories,” she says. “There are a lot of small towns that kind of echo New Iberia, with more historical downtowns, and with mom-and-pop shops trying to make a comeback.”
Lacy, as mentioned, is off to other parts and hopes to be back in Vermont in a few months, perhaps to teach a bit and work on smaller projects that, at least for a while, don’t involve walls or murals. Still, she thoroughly enjoyed her New Iberia experience, and for that city, as in every locale, her wish is the same:
“I definitely hope to inspire more murals, more risk-taking in that department. I hope to share the stories of the different locations, and show that they have a lot in common. I think art is a really powerful common ground, where people can meet.”