Louisiana’s Natural Beauty: An Art Contest with the Audubon Institute

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA) announces its fifth annual Art Contest, a partnership with the Audubon Nature Institute.  This statewide opportunity for scholarships and other awards benefits Louisiana’s high school juniors and seniors, all eligible for entry, regardless of grades or college plans. 

“As a student at Catholic High School in New Iberia,” explains George Rodrigue, “I was never the best academically.  But I created art, and I had original ideas.  At the time, there were no art classes in school.  In fact, I was thrown out of class many times for drawing!”

-click photo to enlarge-

(pictured, Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River, 2011 by George Rodrigue; story here-)

Yet Rodrigue went on to study art at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, followed by the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.  For forty-five years he’s made a living with his paintings, beginning with his dark landscapes of the late 1960s.  Through his foundation and its scholarship contest, he shares this success with Louisiana’s students, focusing this year on the same subject that launched his career.

(pictured:  Rodrigue still paints Louisiana Landscapes, such as Low Tide, 2009, 15×30 inches; click photo to enlarge-)
Louisiana’s landscape is a natural wonder defined by waterways, animals and plant-life.  Throughout the state, oaks, cypress, magnolias and other varieties shade country roads, swampland and neighborhoods.  Azaleas, irises, and water lilies add bursts of color in parks and alongside bayous, home to alligators, snakes, and hundreds of species of fish, frogs and insects.
(pictured, Atchafalaya Basin Squaw, 1984 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

Within Louisiana’s history and folklore, trees protected early settlers, including Native Americans at Poverty Point and, centuries later, Cajuns along the Bayou Teche, from sun and rain. Longfellow’s Evangeline waited for her Gabriel beneath a famous oak in St. Martinville, Louisiana. 

(pictured, Evangeline on the Azalea Trail, circa 1975 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

Politicians, such as Governors Huey Long and Earl Long, campaigned for office beneath similar trees in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.  And artist George Rodrigue returned home to Louisiana following art school in California to paint the oaks and coulees of New Iberia and Lafayette.

(pictured, George Rodrigue, 1971, Lafayette, Louisiana; click photo to enlarge-)
For early settlers, moss from live oaks and cypress trees filled mattresses, while the wood became houses, boats and furniture.  Since the beginning, the trees are home to Louisiana’s distinctive insects, birds and other wildlife.
(pictured, The First Cajuns, from George Rodrigue’s Saga of the Acadians, 1984-1989; click photo to enlarge-)
Located within New Orleans, Louisiana’s Audubon Park best represents this history. Once a sugar plantation and Civil War site, the park boasts a wide range of plant life and animals, as well as trees more than 100 years old, including the de Boré Oak of 1740.

Named for the great wildlife artist and naturalist, John James Audubon (1785-1851), who painted many of his famous images of birds while living in Louisiana’s West Feliciana Parish, Audubon Park became the preserved green space we know today through the work of John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920), whose family firm also developed New York’s Central Park.

(pictured, an early photo of Audubon Park-)

Upon his arrival in St. Francisville, Louisiana in 1821, John James Audubon admired the area’s natural beauty.  He wrote,

“The rich magnolias covered with fragrant blossoms, the holly, the beech, the tall yellow poplar, the hilly ground and even the red clay, all excited my admiration.”

Without city funding, Audubon Park depends on proceeds from other Audubon facilities, including the zoo, aquarium and insectarium.  To protect the park long term, the Audubon Nature Institute established Olmsted Renewed, a fundraising campaign that “supports the care and preservation of existing trees; the planting of new trees and other natural landscaping; and the maintenance of existing structures throughout the Park.” (from the Audubon Institute website)

(pictured, City Park, New Orleans, circa 1989 by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)

The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and the Audubon Institute invite this year’s applicants to explore Louisiana’s Natural Beauty.  The artistic approach can be historical, contemporary, or imaginary in its conception, with interpretations ranging from a traditional Louisiana landscape to an exploration of indigenous plant and animal life, or even a fanciful tableau. 
(pictured, George Rodrigue, photographed September 2013 with Creatures, a one-of-a-kind artwork on metal from his private collection, blending a typical Rodrigue-style Louisiana oak tree with his loup-garou-based Blue Dog and his favorite movie-monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon; more history here-)
In addition to scholarships and prizes, as in past years, the finalists’ original artworks tour Louisiana on public display to various locations such as the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.
The Grand Prize Winner works with artist George Rodrigue to create a poster based on their original artwork, sold at Audubon locations, including the zoo, aquarium, butterfly garden and insectarium, benefiting Olmsted Renewed, the Audubon Institute, and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.
George and I look forward to meeting the finalists, their families, and art teachers next spring at a luncheon in their honor, presented by our 2014 sponsor, Chevron Corporation, at the Audubon Tea Room in New Orleans.
-Deadline for entries:  Feb. 12, 2014.  Learn more about the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts (GRFA), including its Scholarship Art Contest, Print Donation Program, and Louisiana A+ Schools, at this link

-George Rodrigue and I hope to see you this fall, as we present lectures and book signings benefiting GRFA and its programs; details here

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook

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