Friday, September 7, 2018

Everybody’s Favorite Small Town: St. Francisville, LA

Everybody’s Favorite Small Town: St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler
lemonadeLittle St. Francisville in West Feliciana in recent years has made it to the top of various favorite small town lists, not only statewide but also nationally, and it’s no surprise to those who live there. Residents have a tremendous sense of place and an abiding appreciation of the little rivertown’s history and charm. It takes a lot of hard work and planning to preserve these attributes, but that’s exactly what townspeople love about the place and what leads harried urbanites to move there. One set of big city grandparents, restoring a tiny structure in St. Francisville as a delightful pied-a-terre so they can visit with the grandkids, cited the wonderful small town feel and the ability to actually walk, rather than drive, to the park, the cafĂ© and coffee house, the museum, the library, the shops and churches.

This is also representative of a trend sweeping America as folks move from suburbs into walkable downtowns with access to amenities close at hand. Where once young adults couldn’t wait to leave behind their country or small town roots, now they’re returning in droves, according to an article in BBC News on the resurgence of small towns. Author Tom Geoghegan’s piece, entitled “The Untold Good News Story of America Today,” asserts that the current trend is a reversal of the decades-long exodus to large urban centers and outlying suburbs. He also finds that returnees are armed with new ideas and a spirit of cooperation (for the most part) for problem solving on a local level impossible on a national scope.

jerry and dogsPeople in small towns are happier than those living in large cities, according to studies quoted by author Derren Brown. His book called Happy City explains this by asserting that in small towns, people know their neighbors and rely on them, feel connected and empowered to solve shared problems. Those who have strong social relationships are happier, as evolutionary evidence proves individuals joined in groups or tribes function better than those who are (or feel) isolated.

Advances in technology are additional factors making it possible for small town residents to perform work tasks even while living at a distance from their employer, and companies consider “quality of life” issues as important factors when considering relocating or expanding, often giving smaller towns an advantage. The unique charm of small towns, where not every store is a big box and not everything looks and feels the same, contributes to changing attitudes and shifting population. The article asserts that smaller communities with creative residents who are connected, as in St. Francisville which has become a magnet for all manner of creative residents thriving in its inspiring atmosphere, can be the laboratory for solving larger worldwide problems, because creativity, change and innovation can often occur more quickly and more easily at the local level.

St. Francisville’s entire downtown area is a National Register-listed Historic District and its zoning regulations are carefully considered and enforced to emphasize the preservation of its historic character. Riverboats disembark appreciative passengers from around the country to enjoy downtown hop on-hop off bus tours, never failing to comment on the charm and welcoming small town feel. The town’s streets are lined with a number of 19th and early 20th-century cottages whose galleries boast fanciful Victorian trim, plus stepped-front storefronts and shops full of one-of-a-kind treasures; the history museum has fascinating exhibits, beautiful historic churches welcome visitors, and there’s often a little lemonade stand staffed by industrious local children beneath drooping crepe myrtle branches along the bricked sidewalks.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

home royal streetThe nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Sunday, July 8, 2018

St. Francisville Welcomes First Artist in Residence

St. Francisville Welcomes First Artist in Residence
By Anne Butler
IMG 1615When Life give you Lemons, you make Lemonade.
Or Collages. When life gave English artist John Lawson lemons, in the form of Katrina floodwaters engulfing his New Orleans studio and soaking over two decades’ worth of original sketches, he pieced together tattered fragments, added other meaningful images, and won such praise from art critics that he’s been working in that medium ever since.
While studying landscape architecture at LSU in the 1980s, Lawson fell in love with Louisiana’s creative culture---its art, its music, its cooking, its lush landscapes and magnificent architectural treasures, its joie de vivre, its Mardi Gras parades that provided bright beads he recycled into gorgeous artworks including covering an entire piano—but after Katrina he left the state. Now he’s back, has just had a well-received showing of colorful collages of iconic blues musicians at Ann Connelly Fine Art, and was tapped to design the official poster for this year’s Baton Rouge Blues Festival.
He’s also going to be in St. Francisville from mid-July through the month of August as the very first Artist in Residence sponsored by the local umbrella arts organization called Arts For All, which is providing lodging for him in downtown’s quirky 3-V Tourist Courts, the little throw-back-thirties automobile-age cabins with garage attached that were used in one of the Bonnie and Clyde documentaries. Arts For All is also providing work space in its studio.

maryTIn return, Lawson will give a public talk at Birdman Coffee on August 2 at 6 p.m. and will teach a collage workshop (pre-registration required) on August 7. In addition, limited opportunities to observe the artist’s creative processes may be available, as he demonstrates his techniques and also explains a bit about his selection of meaningful images---prolific butterflies, for example, representing rebirth, or the cycles of the moon as something always changing but always still there, image of the artist processing the passage of time and loss and recovery. Information on these programs is available at westfelicianaarts.com or birdmancoffee@bellsouth.net, and donations to help with expenses would be welcomed. John Lawson will also be honored as the featured artist at fall’s popular Yellow Leaf Arts Festival in Parker Park, St. Francisville, a great gathering of original artists and crafters, musicians and food vendors.

Birdman Coffee & Books owner and Arts For All guiding light Lynn Wood, an artist and musician herself, along with local musician Nancy Roppolo, attended the April opening of Lawson’s blues series of artworks at Ann Connelly gallery and, says Lynn, “we were blown away, intrigued by his enthusiasm about art, the blues, about working up here in our area, and his ideas about collaboration with us; he went on and on. He is ‘the real deal,’ if you know what I mean, a very creative thinker, a true artist who talks and breathes creativity. He talks about learning about the world and understanding the world and communicating that understanding through his art.”

Birdman has an exhibit of Lawson’s collages hanging, and Lynn says during his residency he will “soak up the atmosphere in our area and then create work!” The St. Francisville area, with its verdant woodlands and picturesque pastoral reaches, has been inspiring artists of every stripe since Audubon painted a number of his famous Birds of America series in the area, and now it is home to a wide assortment of writers, artists, designers, musicians, crafters and other creative souls.

IMG 1617And now it may also inspire one resilient English-born and nationally appreciated fine artist, whose intricately layered collage images create mixed-media representations of his journey through life and his search for its meaning.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

IMG 1612The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

St. Francisville’s Shelter Success Depends on Community Support

posterSt. Francisville’s Shelter Success Depends on Community Support

By Anne Butler

 The promotional poster, designed by Alan Morton, looks like the cover of a steamy romance novel, the male with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, passionately holding in his arms a scantily clad sexpot gazing adoringly into his eyes. But wait! It’s not Fabio!
Closer inspection reveals big erect ears and protruding snout exposing the masculine heartthrob as a German Shepherd, and the sexpot in his arms really a sultry feline.

Yep! This scintillating poster is announcing the Wags & Whiskers Gala on Saturday, July 21, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at Hemingbough just south of St. Francisville. Its slogan is “All You Need Is Love,” but bring your cash or credit cards, too, because this is the main fundraiser supporting programs spreading the love to St. Francisville’s lost, injured, abused or abandoned animals.
 This sixth annual gala promises the usual fun carnival-type activities, dancing to music by the popular Delta Drifters, silent auction of an enormous cache of fabulous donated items, spectacular food, kissing booth where attendees can Smooch A Pooch, and lots of costumed cats and dogs parading around and looking for a home. Tickets are $25 and are available from bontemptix.com or at the Bank of St. Francisville.

The gala is sponsored by the non-profit West Feliciana Animal Humane Society, whose dedicated and hard-working members coordinate volunteer and donor efforts for the James L. “Bo” Bryant Shelter in St. Francisville. Before this shelter opened, the dog pound consisted of a few makeshift pens attached to the parish jail, where the four-legged inmates were pretty much on death row. Only a small percentage, 5% to 10%, were adopted out, mostly thanks to the efforts of a retired state trooper turned sheriff’s deputy, the late “Bo” Bryant; the rest met a sadder fate.

The shelter opened in August of 2012, and statistics show an incredible success rate for life-saving adoptions. Since 2014 a total of 1,651 cats and dogs have passed through, and of those, 1,242 have been adopted to permanent safe homes. Some were homeless strays, some were simply lost (over 200 were reunited with their owners), but others had been removed from abusive situations or abandoned because of owner deaths or relocations. In three years, only 87 had to be euthanized due to severe medical issues or aggression; this is very low kill. The shelter also has a Trap-Neuter-Return program in cooperation with local vets that has fixed nearly 300 feral cats. Reasonable adoption fees cover medical exams, shots, deworming, microchip and spaying.

The statistics are staggering, and the success rate is a tribute to shelter personnel and dozens of dedicated volunteers and vets. But those are just numbers. Walk through the shelter’s dog kennels or separate new cat house, and it all gets personal, with shelter staff socializing and loving each dog, cat, pig, horse, bird or snake (yes, there have been all of those in there).

SaraTake, for example, Helen, tiny poodle found wandering down a busy dangerous highway in horrible condition, severely emaciated, hearing loss, nearly blind from cataracts, yeast infection covering her entire body. Now she’s healthy and happy in a foster home, heart-worm free, spayed, and ready for a home of her own through the shelter’s Forever Foster program with all medical bills paid for life. Or Molly, spotted on a roadside by drivers who thought she was a dirty discarded stuffed animal until she moved. It took seven hours to groom her matted fur, she had a leg deformity that made her run with one paw flapping in the air, and she was so tiny that staff feared she could slip through drain openings in the kennels, so she went home with the shelter director, who fell so deeply in love with her that Molly has stayed there ever since.

Or Suzie, the cute black lab mix pup adopted and then returned by a large and noisy family when she proved unable to adjust to the dozens of children and dogs and commotion; the broken-hearted daughter of the family wrote a letter about what a wonderful dog Suzie was, but as an adult black dog, the hardest type to adopt out, she languished at the shelter for ten months with zero interest. Shelter staff gave her special time, made her “Queen for a Day” on ice-cream outings, groomed her and posted photos, but no one wanted her. Determined staff took her to the Angola Rodeo adoption event, and Suzie found new owners who love her.
The stories are endless…Cammie, who came in with two broken legs after being hit by a car; China, who has been in the shelter almost an entire year; Emily, grey and white pit bull obviously used as a bait dog and breeder, covered in scars and bruises, bite marks all over, pregnant, and miraculously sweet and gentle when rescued. Her 14 healthy puppies have gone to loving homes, her heartworm treatment is being paid by the guardian angel program, and she is ready for adoption. Pits are specially vetted, and so are the prospective adoptive homes; actually, all of the adoptions are carefully assessed to assure a good match and safe home situation.

airplaneThe shelter works with Paws4Rescue, an organization rescuing dogs from shelters and transporting them to waiting homes in the Northeast via Rescue Road Trips; twelve shelter dogs have gone to Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and New Jersey, including a big bloodhound called Scarlet who flew via private plane to Charleston, thanks to two local pilots.

Even horses find new homes through the shelter’s efforts, like Dreamer, registered and of good stock but removed from a neglectful situation where several other horses had already starved to death, then scheduled to be euthanized when the case finally went to court. The shelter provided medical care, grooming and lots of attention, and this horse’s dream came true in a new forever home.

Shelter director Josette Lester and Gala Chairman Valerie Koubek stress the importance of volunteers of all ages and donors year-round, but the springtime explosion of puppies and kittens makes it especially essential that the community join in making a difference. For information on ways to help, call 225-635-5801 or go to www.wfahs.org; there are also a couple of wonderful Facebook page full of photos: West Feliciana Animal Humane Society and West Feliciana Animal Humane Society Friends.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).