Between them they spent just a few hundred dollars on his canvases, however their influence in the community contributed greatly to George’s direction, reputation, and fame.
It was Rita Davis (pronounced Ree-tah, with an emphasis on ‘tah’) who introduced George to A. Hays Town. The famous Louisiana architect assessed George’s paintings in the late 1960s and transformed his approach with this advice:
“Treat each painting like a jewel, because if it is precious to you, it will be precious to others as well.”
Young George returned to his easel with this abstract concept shaping his method, and he never painted the same way again. Both Davis and Town purchased the resulting Rodrigue landscapes, now dark, seemingly antique, painted with care, and sparkling like jewels.
(Pictured above, one of two 11×14 inch paintings purchased by Rita Davis in 1969 and later returned to George by her son, who requested that he “lighten them up.” George instead exchanged the paintings for a later work and retained the landscapes for his personal collection. My apologies for the terrible photo; however these canvases are nearly impossible to photograph. Also of note is the frame, an original molding finished years ago by George himself. For more see the post Painting to the Frame).
It was A. Hays Town who introduced George to the Reilly Gallery in New Orleans, the only gallery other than his own to ever display his work in Louisiana. An example from that show, pictured above and in the newspaper article below, remains in George’s private collection. (For more info, see the post A Gallery of His Own).
In 1969 George also met Frances Love, director of the permanent collection of the art museum for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Foundation (then called the University of Southwest Louisiana) from 1965 to 1983. In 1968 Hays Town designed and built the art museum that would house the university’s collection of works, compiled from gifts to the USL Foundation for the Art Center for Southwestern Louisiana.
(pictured, A Toast to Cajun Food, 1973, 30×40, collection of the University Art Museum, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Shelton of Lafayette, Louisiana)
Modeled after Hermitage Plantation (1812) near Darrow, Louisiana, the impressive building stands today on St. Mary’s Boulevard in Lafayette, adjacent to the campus, and shares property with the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum (2004). Although the new climate-controlled contemporary museum houses the art collection and rotating exhibits today, for years Town’s plantation-style ‘Pink Building’ (now painted white; photographed by Stephen B. Chambers) serviced the community as the Lafayette Museum.
It was Frances Love who dedicated her efforts to this institution for nearly twenty years and who, after a long line of outside shows, chose 25-year old George Rodrigue as the first local (and living) artist to exhibit at the museum. The 1969 exhibition was hugely successful, and it was a milestone for George who could have no way of knowing that it was the last time the university’s museum would devote their major galleries to his work.
The museum and the university’s foundation together own more than twenty original Rodrigue canvases, largely donated due to the persuasive efforts of Mrs. Love and the generosity of local collectors such as Mr. and Mrs. Robert Shelton and Dr. and Mrs. John Straub. However, with the exception of a small exhibition in 2009, not since Mrs. Love’s retirement in 1983 has the art of George Rodrigue hung on the walls of the museum.
(pictured, George Rodrigue and Dr. John Straub looking at The Cajuns of George Rodrigue, the first book published nationally on the Cajun culture; Bernice’s Calf, donated by Straub to the university’s museum, hangs on the wall, 1976)
This irony was not lost on Frances Love, who supported George’s career throughout her life and encouraged local support of the arts. I asked George for a few words in her honor:
“Mrs. Love brought new talent to the museum and got local people involved in the arts — neither of which had ever been done before. She put on many shows, not necessarily dedicated to traditional painting and sculpture, but rather to things that attracted a wide audience. She was heavily involved in the Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition (LAGCOE) and geared museum exhibitions towards attracting its participants. She created a yearly design fair for exhibitions, bringing in artists, interior decorators, and fashion. She also produced periodicals and books about the museum and its collections and was instrumental in getting local participation for industries to support the university’s art programs.
“Mrs. Love worked tirelessly for the arts, the university, and the community. She acted not only as the museum’s director, but also the lead public relations person in exposing the arts to Lafayette, something that had never been done before.
“After my show in 1969, she became one of my closest, best supporters, and there’s no doubt that her devotion to my art established my strong early beginnings in and around Lafayette.
“Mrs. Frances Love was a true promoter and supporter of local artists in the Lafayette community for forty-five years.”
All paintings in this post are oil on canvas by George Rodrigue
Pictured above, Bernice’s Calf, 1972, 24×36, from the collection of the University Art Museum, donated by Dr. and Mrs. John Straub of Lafayette, Louisiana; photograph of Frances Love with Marvin DuBos and Ivan Boudier of the Lafayette Art Association; photograph of Ann LeJeune, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Frances Love
Coming this Saturday: “The Blue Cat”