Saturday, January 14, 2017

WHERE BAYOUS FUSELIER AND TECHE MEET

This week, a writer friend from Florida arrived after delivering boxes containing journals covering her lifetime to the archives of Sophie Newcomb in New Orleans, Louisiana and wanted to revisit a few sights in Teche country she'd missed after she left here eighteen years ago. We took her to one of our favorite places for lunch at the Little Big Cup and to NuNu Art & Culture Collective in Arnaudville, Louisiana. The latter center was conceived by native-born George Marks, an artist and sculptor, who returned to his roots in this small Cajun community twelve years ago. Marks, who helped revive a dying community and who has made a home for displaced artists after Hurricane Katrina, recently received the Jillian Johnson Award for Entrepreneurship in the Creative Economy and is credited with spearheading a cultural and economic rebirth in Arnaudville. He was recently highlighted in an article by Walter Pierce in ABiz, an alternative newspaper featuring news and analysis on commerce in South Louisiana.

When we arrived at NuNu's, we were greeted by a member of the quilting circle working in one of the rooms of the Art and Culture Collective, and she postponed returning to her sewing until she had pointed out a few of the artists' creations — paintings, jewelry, wood carvings, soaps, textiles, books
by Louisiana writers and other pieces of artistic work. My writer friend, Jo Ann Lordahl, was attracted to a huge painting by Marks, and we had our picture taken beside his work shown in this blog.


We spent an hour in the Collective, and I enjoyed talking with Debbie Richard, a retired speech teacher who hangs out in NuNu's and is a "closet writer." I'd seen a sign that read Prairie des Femmes, or Prairie of the Women, as I entered the art center and was intrigued by Debbie's description of a triangular prairie between Bayou Fuselier and the headwaters of Bayou Vermilion. She said that it was a place to which women had fled from storms, hurricanes, war, and other disasters and that there were stories about this unincorporated community with which she wasn't familiar.

When I returned home, I did a bit of research and found that a woman named Ashlee Michot lives near Prairie des Femmes and has written two books about the area, Journals and Portraits of A Place. She has also published several books about Louisiana yard shrines and Marian grottos. Many days she spends time in the countryside around Point Blue where she says she first heard French spoken. A retired school teacher, she photographs rural scenes, writes music, works with medicinal herbs and does amateur archaeology in fields around her home. I was told that my friend, the poet Darrell Bourque, knows Ashlee, and I intend to learn more about her and any stories she has heard about Prairie des Femmes when we meet with the Bourques in February.

As usual, I enjoyed touring a South Louisiana habitat as much as the tourist, and after eating some Cajun fare on the deck of The Little Big Cup, we walked through Tom's Fiddle & Bow Shop where owner Tom Pierce often has bluegrass jam sessions. We denied having any musical ability, although I have a yen to learn how to play the banjo, and we escaped before Pierce could sign us up for fiddle lessons.

A growing number of Cajun and Creole artists, poets, musicians, and chefs have set up shop in Arnaudville, some of whom have built homes in this haven that almost died out in the 1980's, but which is now recognized by Gaye Hamilton, manager of Louisiana Cultural Districts of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, as a town where "placemaking has been done right."
 
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