St. Francisville Welcomes First Artist in Residence
By Anne Butler
When 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.
In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
And 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.
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).