Crawfish Dreams and Artist Friends

George Rodrigue loves crawfish primarily as a symbol of Cajun culture.  The shellfish itself is deadly to him, inducing a closed throat and limited breathing.

“Soon after I did my crawfish festival poster, I developed practically overnight an allergy to crawfish.  Even the smell of the boil leaves me wheezing and my wife running for the phone and 911.” – G.R.

(pictured, Cajun Feast, a silkscreen from 2000)
Alas, we miss crawfish boils, lest George lose his life, a trade I weigh every spring with regards to the seafood and tradition I love. 
As a kid, I recall sitting with my cousins on the curb anticipating the Grela Mardi Gras Parade on the West Bank of New Orleans.  We ate boiled crawfish from a large plastic trashcan, sometimes as early as 8:00 a.m., as we awaited the parade.  Today I miss that excitement, but I settle for my annual ride with the Krewe of Muses, a welcome distraction (story here).

(pictured, André and Boudreaux Boiling Crawfish, oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, circa 1980; click photo to enlarge-)

For George, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, celebrated this weekend (May 4-6, 2012), is an important distraction for more than twenty-five years.  For his 1984 poster, he painted friends, including his high school buddy Ed Vice (as the crawfish), Diane Bernard Keogh (as the Queen, but most often his Evangeline), and his long-time friend Ray Hay (in the chair, of Ray Hay’s Cajun Po-Boys, a restaurant in Houston).

-click photo to enlarge-

Although posed in his backyard, George transfers the figures on canvas to a camp on the bayou, carefully aligning them within the tree, cabin and other elements, so that they stand timeless, trapped within a tradition.

Any thoughts on this poster?  I asked George Rodrigue.

“I love the Breaux Bridge sign and especially the zip code,” he said, with his trademark Snagglepuss-type laugh.

Years later, George contributed three works to the Schaeffer Eye Center/Beam’s Crawfish Boil in Birmingham, Alabama, all celebrating the Cajun favorite.

Boiling My Blues Away (1998) shows Birmingham’s signature Vulcan statue in the distance.

Dancing With the Crawfish (1999) looks back to Rodrigue’s earlier festival posters, along with a link to Cajun music.

The print Crawfish Boil is Rodrigue’s farewell gesture to the world of festival posters — not only his last for this festival, but also the year (2000) of his last poster for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and his last for Neiman Marcus.  The period marks an end for Rodrigue of any commission-based series, as he turns the following year to Blue Dog Relief following September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and finally the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, established in 2009.

We’ve thought a lot about the Crawfish Festival poster lately and the history of Louisiana festival posters in general as we watch artist Tony Bernard fill a long-empty niche.  As he explains in his Jazz Fest history, George Rodrigue feels these festival posters should be a venue for exposure for Louisiana artists.

“He’s the ‘Louisiana Festival Poster King!’” he exclaimed, when I asked George about Tony Bernard and his recent Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival poster.  The comment came not with jealousy or sarcasm, but with pride and admiration, from one artist-friend to another, as George watched Tony develop within his art.

(pictured, the 2012 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival poster by Tony Bernard; read more about Tony and his posters in my latest story for Gambit Weekly, linked here-)

“Ten years ago Tony decided he wanted to get into portrait art,” explains George Rodrigue.  “So he took some portrait classes from an artist and after five weeks ended up teaching the class.  That’s the sign of an artist with confidence, making a difference.”

(pictured, Tony Bernard with his portrait of George Rodrigue’s sons, Andre and Jacques)

(pictured, Jacques Rodrigue (George’s son; Executive Director of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts), Tony Bernard (Artist, George’s friend of more than twenty years), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana’s Governor, and the subject of Bernard’s official governor’s portrait), artist George Rodrigue)

George Rodrigue abandoned festival posters because his art took him in different directions.  Although he enjoyed the challenges for a while, he now looks back with a different attitude, including a powerful respect for the ‘festival poster artist.’

 “After creating dozens of festival posters, I know the problem first-hand.  The artist faces the committee, general public, and his own ideas.  Tony Bernard’s art bridges all of these obstacles, and he continues creating artwork in a way that pleases everyone while also pleasing himself.”


pictured above (click photo to enlarge), a wall in George Rodrigue’s studio, Lafayette, Louisiana, full of his Louisiana festival posters, all honoring small-town celebrations; for more info, visit here

-also related, my latest story for Gambit Weekly, “Tony Bernard:  Louisiana’s Festival Poster King, ” linked here

6 thoughts on “Crawfish Dreams and Artist Friends

  1. I LOVE your description of George's answer to your question about his thoughts on the "Breaux Bridge" sign. "With his trademark Snagglepuss type laugh!" I just got a mental picture and it was fabulous! You are the greatest with YOUR descriptive remarks! Freda

  2. Fantastic!! Thank you for the wonderful musings. I'm from Breaux Bridge and collect festival posters mainly from BBCF and Festival Acadiens (Rodrigue's 1984 fest poster has pride of place in my liv room) but I do collect ANY Louisiana festival poster. I'm truly obsessed with fest posters and it is because I was at a BBCF many years ago and fell in love with George Rodrigue's BB Crawfish Festival poster. That was it!! I was hooked by all of his wonderful art. And…Tony Bernard. Well, if Mr. Rodrigue isn't going to do anymore festival posters, I'm glad he's passed the torch to Tony Bernard. I rushed over to the BBCF as fast as I could in 2012 just to get the poster. Thanks again for "Musings of an Artist's Wife" and sharing moments in your life. Mary Soileau

  3. Great article, Mrs. Rodrigue! I was wondering if you (or anyone) know how many of the 1998 Schaeffer Posters were created. I have one in my possession and was wondering how many were made and the value of an individual poster. Thanks again for the musings.
    -A Big Fan

  4. Hello Mrs. Rodrigue, my name is Michael Scott. I currently live in Louisiana with my fiance, but we are formerly from the Birmingham area. We also had our first date at Vulcan in Birmingham, and a year later we got engaged there as well. "Boiling My Blues Away" is our favorite painting! It fits our life perfectly. We are huge fans of George Rodriguez and Blue Dog. I am wondering if there is any way possible that I can purchase a print of that painting anywhere? This would make the perfect anniversary or wedding gift for my fiance. I hope you can help me and thank you so much!

  5. Hi Michael- Thank you for writing in. Although Mrs. Rodrigue is still blogging on occasion, she no longer manages these comments. However, I feel sure she would direct you to the galleries for assistance. If you'll email or call 504-581-4244, they can let you know if there is availability on this print. Thank you for your interest. And Congratulations on your engagement! Rodrigue Studio

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