Rodeo Drive

Artist George Rodrigue and I attended a rodeo in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada last weekend.  The area, called Glenbrook, reminded me at first of developments like Seaside and WaterColor near my hometown of Fort Walton Beach.  Although I’m fond of these ice cream colored Florida Panhandle houses, my initial comparison was a stretch, now that I understand, in a small way, this historic western ranching and timber community. 
The north Florida neighborhoods, also in timberland, sprung up before my eyes beginning in the 1980s.   Glenbrook, however, dates to 1860, and it owes its appeal not only to its natural beauty, but also to the graveyard ghosts and passed-down stories of its homeowners.
(pictured, I Grew Up a Cowboy, 1996 by George Rodrigue, 40×30 inches, acrylic on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)
George Rodrigue and I appreciate such history.  In fact, his paintings, such as Rodeo Drive, pictured below, depend on it.  I thought of the painting immediately as we attended a rodeo on Glenbrook’s historic site at the base of Shakespeare Mountain.

“In 1988 a gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, exhibited my paintings,” recalls Rodrigue.  “I visited several months earlier to view the space and research the area.   

“Turns out the famous shopping stretch was once a country road through swampland.  As a Cajun, I preferred this history to the fancy stores, so I themed the show and artwork with my version of Rodeo Drive.”

(pictured, Rodeo Drive, 1988 by George Rodrigue, 30×40 inches, oil on canvas; click photo to enlarge-)
To my surprise, the rodeo referenced in George’s painting is unlinked to the cowboy sport.  According to its website, Rodeo Drive (pronounced Roh-DAY-oh) earned its name from the area’s marsh-like terrain.  As early as 1769, locals called the land, then part of Mexico, “the Gathering of the Waters,” or “El Rodeo de las Aguas.”
In Rodrigue’s very American painting, a Western rodeo tradition blends with a southern California swampland-turned shopping district, and a Cajun artist’s interpretation of his southwest Louisiana childhood.

“The photo of me on the horse hung on the wall of our house since the late 1940s,” says Rodrigue.  “A photographer visited New Iberia with a Shetland pony and kids’ cowboy costumes.  My parents dressed me in that outfit, and the photographer took my picture.”

Rodrigue used this photograph in several works over the years, sometimes obviously, and sometimes indirectly, such as his Mamou Riding Academy of 1971, pictured below and detailed in its own essay here.
-click photo to enlarge-
In one case, Rodrigue replaces the pony from his photograph with a blue bull.  The large-scale work originally hung behind the bandstand of Café Tee George in Lafayette, Louisiana, a precursor to the Blue Dog Café.  Today the painting hangs in our home, occasionally borrowed by creative museum curators for bovine-themed exhibitions.
(pictured, Tee George on the Bull, 1996 by George Rodrigue, 6×7 feet, acrylic on plywood)
Not only does photography inspire George within his artwork, but also his artwork inspires his photography.

“All artists should be good photographers,” he explained, as I poured through his recent Glenbrook rodeo files, “certainly in terms of composition, design, and recognizing a good shot.”

(pictured, Glenbrook, Nevada, July 2013 by George Rodrigue)
But even George admits that our friend Kevin Vogt, who doubles as Master Sommelier for Chef Emeril Lagasse, stole the show with the images below.  (Admittedly, I saw more in George and Kevin’s photographs than I did at the rodeo, during much of which I explored the quiet of the barn).
-photos by Kevin Vogt of Las Vegas, Nevada; click images to enlarge-

Finally, our rodeo adventure was about friendship, as we visited with Barbara and Tony Ricciardi, long-time friends from Carmel, California and Reno, Nevada.  Barbara’s family, the Crumleys, purchased their Glenbrook home from the original owners in 1967.  The 1930s property is one of the oldest still standing in this Lake Tahoe community. 
The house overlooks a meadow and the lake, surrounded by cedar, pine, and aspen trees.  Although I enjoyed the rodeo experience, it was our friends’ front yard that I treasured most, as we lingered in the lush grass with conversation, books and wine, in love with the view over our heads as much as the view across Lake Tahoe.

(pictured, with George Rodrigue (right), Barbara and Tony Ricciardi, at sunset, Glenbrook pier, S. Lake Tahoe, July 2013-)

From Tahoe, we spent an easy day in Reno on a Barbara-and-Tony This is Your Lifetour, including the Ricciardi ranch-style home, in their family since the 1950s, complete with cattle, a river (with crawfish!), and a bomb shelter. 
But that’s best saved for another post, without rodeo competition, because Barbara’s father, Newt Crumley (1911-1962), is a Nevada legend, the first person to bring big-name entertainment, such as Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante, to the state.  He alone takes up five hundred words in my notes.
And Tony’s mother, known to her grandchildren and great grandchildren as Gigi, short for “Granny Goose,” her thick white hair pulled back, yet flyaway, as though representing her resonant beauty, fairytale cadence, and enduring youth, deserves, on her own, at least another thousand.
-the rodeo at Shakespeare Ranch in Glenbrook is a fundraiser hosted by Camille and Larry Ruvo, benefiting Keep Memory Alive and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a partner with the Cleveland Clinic, working together towards finding treatments and ultimately cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases-

-Chef Emeril Lagasse (above, with Larry Ruvo) donated his culinary talents in Glenbrook for downright (and down-home) mouthwatering rodeo cuisine; check out Emeril’s Boudin and Beer in New Orleans for a similar treat this November, benefiting the Emeril Lagasse Foundation

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