Living in the Spotlight

“This world, he’d say, is where you live, right here you do whatever work you have to do.” –Darrell Bourque on Elemore Morgan, Jr.*

Some years ago I attended alone an opening at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans featuring the latest work from Acadiana’s beloved landscape artist, Elemore Morgan, Jr. (1931-2008).  I explored the exhibition unnoticed, struggling to see the art around the large crowd of Morgan fans and making a mental note to return the following week.  Out of nowhere, a hand touched my shoulder and, to my surprise, I stood face-to-face with the elegant artist.
(pictured, Oak Shape, 1983. Acrylic on Masonite by Elemore Madison Morgan, Jr.; collection The Ogden Museum of Southern Art)

“Tell George I have always admired him,” whispered Morgan, low in my ear, so that I could hear above the throngs awaiting his attention.  “More than any other artist, George Rodrigue inspired me and influenced my work.”

I hugged him, a man I had never met, and I left immediately, pausing on the sidewalk to note the exchange on the back of a grocery list, saved undisturbed in my keepsake box until this essay.  A block away, George Rodrigue waited in our car for my report of the artist’s reception he feared, not wanting to risk the possibility that his appearance, for good or bad, might distract others from Morgan, his long-time friend.
(pictured, Living in the Spotlight, 2013.  Acrylic on canvas by George Rodrigue, 40×60 inches; on view at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)

“I first met Elemore Morgan in the mid-1970s,” recalls Rodrigue, “when we spoke about our art at a Lafayette Kiwanis Club Luncheon.  We both walked away appreciating each other and our unique approaches to Louisiana’s landscape.”

(pictured, Low Tide, 2009.  Oil on canvas by George Rodrigue, 20×30 inches; on view at Rodrigue Studio, New Orleans; click photo to enlarge-)
This past weekend the spotlight shined bright during The Music of New Orleans Jazz Masters, as Irvin Mayfield, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts organized an unprecedented event honoring the music of Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, and James Black.

“I never thought until tonight to link the visual arts and the acoustic arts…” 

…noted friend Chris Cenac as we walked from the famous Joy Theater towards the famous Sazerac Bar on yet another incredible night in New Orleans.  Those of us fortunate enough to attend will never forget the highlights, shared here with a few quotes and photographs (click photos to enlarge)-

“At one point,” explained Irvin Mayfield, “Ed ‘Sweetbread’ Petersen lost his motivation within music.  It came back during one unexpectedly spot-on session. 

“Now, contrary to news reports,” he continued, as we prepared for perhaps the greatest performance of the year, “it was actually Ed ‘Sweetbread’ Petersen who broke the levees on August 29, 2005, as he played his saxophone with enough force and emotion to flood the city of New Orleans.”

(pictured, Ed “Sweetbread” Petersen shakes the historic Joy Theater to its foundation last Friday night; photo credit, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra)

“Irvin Mayfield,” said the great Ellis Marsalis about our uber-talented host, “broke new ground in New Orleans, because he pays great musicians to play great music.”

(pictured above, George Rodrigue, Ellis Marsalis, Wendy Rodrigue, Irvin Mayfield, June 2013)
(pictured above, the jazz icon Ellis Marsalis plays the Rodrigue Steinway with magical hands, Joy Theater, New Orleans, June 2013; photo credit,
(pictured above, George Rodrigue with the near-mythic Harold Battiste, whose presence caused a standing ovation worthy of a true living legend, Joy Theater, June 2013; photo credit,
As the evening ended, and even as I recall it while typing these words, I cried as these talented musicians honored my talented artist-husband.  Uncomfortable within their spotlight, he was visibly humbled by their applause, as we wrapped our minds around this magical night.
And me? I enjoy the spotlight when it involves others, such as my childhood ballet recitals and high school band performances and, in recent years, my joint lectures with George Rodrigue.  Alone, however, I’m miserable, particularly with regards to the video camera, a source of considerable anxiety as The Other Side of the Painting premieres with press events this fall. 
-click photo to enlarge-
Nevertheless, I model for George’s figurative works because the honor is greater than the embarrassment (okay, except when it comes to my dad), and because the alternative is worse:  a strange woman or women posing naked for my husband. 
Admittedly, I enjoy public speaking, not because it brings attention to me, but because it allows me to connect with folks face-to-face as I share the artwork and history of the man I most admire.  The personal exchanges within blogging and facebook produce similar highs.
Recently, George and I discussed our aging within the spotlight:

“While in my 20s,” I noted, as we recalled his early efforts to lessen gossip over our age gap, “you told everyone I was in my 30s.  In my 30s, you told everyone I was in my 40s.  But now, well into my 40s, you tell everyone I’m in my 20s!”

I then grumbled about vitamins, face peels, and exercise and how maybe I can pull it off occasionally in the dark,……. until George, age sixty-nine, interrupted.

“Not twenties, Wendy….

…. and he continued, quite seriously…


*from the poem “The Things Elemore Left Behind,” from the collection Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie by Darrell Bourque, Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press, 2013

-with sincere thanks to the University of New Orleans, which produces and nurtures some of America’s greatest jazz musicians, including members of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, playing Wednesday nights at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel-

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2 thoughts on “Living in the Spotlight

  1. LOVED "The Other Half" interview. Fuggedabout anonymous appearances at art exhibits. Make those tandem performances just one part of your repertoire. Mr. DeMille thinks you're ready for your close-up solo in the spotlight. Because you wield that pen so masterfully, you need to start edging toward being a diva!!! (I know, it'll never happen!)

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