Painting with Uncle George

Originally I planned to spend this post talking about George Rodrigue’s childhood in New Iberia, the fact that he was an only child, along with his lack of art influences, as well as our devotion to arts education. But I’ve covered his childhood already in previous posts, as well as the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. Maybe it’s time — summertime, family time — to talk about the children in our lives today.

As I’ve mentioned before, George and I do not have children of our own. However, he does have two grown sons, André and Jacques. We’re headed on an Alaskan vacation with them in the next few weeks, and I’ll write more about them at that time.

This does not mean, however, that we don’t have young children in our lives. William (age 9) and Wyatt (also called Bubba, age 7), our nephews, are an inseparable part of our holidays, our major decisions, and our future. This past week in Carmel, California, they were also a part of our daily lives.

It’s become a tradition on their visits to paint with Uncle George. We tried to get started this trip as they approached him at his easel:

“Does that pistol work?” William asked, as he looked around the studio.

“Why do you have so many raccoons?” asked Wyatt.

I steered them back.

“What do you think of Uncle George’s painting?”

“Real cool, I like it. Is he almost done?”

“Nope,” said George.

At last George set them up outside, as he’s done many times in both Carmel and New Orleans. He uses his supplies, stretched canvas or 100 pound deckeled-edge watercolor paper, along with acrylic paint and brushes straight from his bucket of water. They create with supplies the likes of which he never knew as a child, and they appreciate it. They don’t recognize their uncle as famous, but they do understand that he’s a great artist. They think every artist lives well and enjoys shows at major museums. Fortunately, they also understand that it takes hard work, talent, and, as we discussed in great detail this week, a lot of luck.

“Is that a Birdman?” I asked Bubba.

“No, it’s a Birdguy. William paints Birdman. They’re archenemies.”

“What are you painting?” I asked William.

“Something crazy.”

Uncle George suggested they paint the animals in the area, maybe the deer that drank from the fountain that morning or the rabbit that hopped across the road:

“Paint an elephant, a kangaroo, a rat!”

Bubba responded,

“I painted an elephant with watercolors before. I only had black paint, so I kept adding water until it turned out kind of grey.”

The great artist (the big kid) grabbed some paper and joined them.

“Uncle George,” said William, “that looks like a stubborn, young deer. What deer would have a small body and a huge head?”

“You gonna give him a red nose?” I asked.

“Hey Uncle George,” said Wyatt, “you could mix some orange in and make brown for that deer. And if you want color, you can paint the Christmas tree green. And William, your painting looks real good.”

They then advised Uncle George to put his painting in the gallery:

“Someone might want to buy it!” said William. “I’ll bet you could get fifty dollars!”

“I doubt it,” mumbled George.

“But Uncle George,” said Wyatt,” they might like the painting. I think it’s a really good painting, especially if you put some green on that tree.”

I responded:

“I think we might keep it.”

“Good idea, Aunt Wendy,” they said together.

We talked about dreams, about knowing what you want to be when you grow up. I told them about Uncle George, sick with polio at age nine, about the paint-by-number sets and modeling clay that cured his boredom and set his course for life, something they understood after William’s long months in a body cast (detailed here, and pictured below). We talked about dedication from an early age, the kind of dedication that shapes a person in adulthood.

And then we talked about their dedication, about bicycle motor cross, the Olympics, the varieties of ants in our backyard, as well as the recent changes in personality in their pet frog, the speed of Uncle George’s four-wheeler, and the number of sea dragons at the Monterey Aquarium.

I asked William,

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“A motorcycle stuntman like Evel Knievel, but more daring.”

Right away, Bubba pleaded,

“Please don’t try a front flip, William. It’s a bad idea.”

William rolled his eyes, and they had a complicated and detailed discussion about the pros, cons (and possibilities) of a front flip, all while painting Birdguy and ‘something crazy.’

“And you, Wyatt?” I asked.

“I’m going to be a scientist,” he replied.

“…or maybe I’ll be William’s mechanic,” he continued. “But if he doesn’t pay me enough, I’ll quit.”


For more on William and Wyatt, visit my sister’s blog: Adventures of a BMX Mom

6 thoughts on “Painting with Uncle George

  1. "They don’t recognize their uncle as famous, but they do understand that he’s a great artist." I love this quote!!! Anybody who truly knows George doesn't recognize him as famous. We recognize him by his compasssion, a great story teller, a brilliant man and of course, can't forget….he tells the best jokes!! There are many other great qualities he possesses but, I would be here till midnight writing about them. People are very fortunate to become his friend as well as, his wife's Wendy's. Life is good when you are in there presence their enthusiasm is contagious!!

  2. I loved this Wendy! Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to hear about the Alaskan trip with Jacques and Andre. – Dana H-B

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