George Rodrigue’s historical masterpiece, “Indians, Cajuns and Cowboys,” pays tribute to three specific yet distinct aspects of American culture. He anchors his composition with the oak tree, the limbs spreading like an eagle’s wings to include the various landscapes and peoples of the American West.
Beneath the tree, the river stretches the width of the canvas, further uniting the American people with its constant flow, transporting cultures and ideas from one area to the next. Yet the pirogue, or boat, sits on dry land, and it is only the Cajuns, Rodrigue’s own people, who are locked in and unable to move within the tree. Alongside his people, a Native American wears a modern tuxedo, a word derived from the Lenape language, “tucsedo,” meaning “crooked river.” A saguaro cactus, a strong symbol of the southwest, stands tall and united with the cowboys. It is only the Cajun boy who sits apart, creating the possibility of a wider journey beyond Acadiana and outside his native culture.
The painting’s strong composition both separates and unifies, suggesting that even though we have differences, we are all united as Americans.
Throughout his life, it was these three aspects of American culture that fascinated Rodrigue the most. He returned to each of them repeatedly on his canvas.
Don’t miss The River is the Road: Paintings by George Rodrigue at the West Baton Rouge Museum through October 29, 2023. Sponsored by Telich Custom Homes, Morgan Stanley, and the Louisiana Lottery.
This exceptional exhibition of original artworks by George Rodrigue travels in 2024-5 to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur, Alabama; the Masur Museum in Monroe, Louisiana; the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville, Tennessee; and the Alexandria Museum of Art in Alexandria, Louisiana.