Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE DELILLE PROJECT

Glasswork depicting spirit of the Venerable Henriette Delille
by Karen Bourque

My spirits always lift when we turn off on Jessie Richard Road near Church Point, Louisiana and into the drive, sheltered by a forest of bamboo, leading to the home of Darrell and Karen Bourque. “Come to lunch, and I’ll cook for y’all,” Darrell said a few weeks ago, and my friend Vickie and I seized the opportunity to spend the day (lunch always extends into a four or five-hour visit) with these cherished friends. The new dish on the menu was an asparagus/carrot soup (beautifully presented) accompanied by black beans, pork roast, sweet potatoes, dirty rice, and the naan that Darrell knows I like because it reminds me of my life in Iran during the 70’s. On each visit, we tell this consummate chef that we’d like to live in the Bourque kitchen — or in the studio, a renovated sharecropper’s cabin adjoining their home. During this visit, Vickie discovered an old shed in the backyard and teased our friends about renovating it and taking up residence in the gardens surrounding the Bourque home.

Darrell Bourque reading from Delille
Darrell is the former poet laureate of Louisiana and author of ten volumes of poetry, one of the latest honoring the talented Creole musician, Amede Ardoin. Darrell was also responsible for establishing a drive to fund a statue to honor Ardoin that will be placed at the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission and Visitors Center in Opelousas, Louisiana Karen, a glass artist, creates non-traditional works of stained glass using rocks, gems, sliced agates, jewelry, and recycled, repurposed items along with the glass to enhance the work's narrative or lyric quality. Many of her pieces have been photographed and appear on the covers of poetry books I’ve written. Her glasswork for the photograph of the cover of Above the Prairie was just featured alongside one of my poems in The Pinyon Review, a literary journal published in Montrose, Colorado.

The Bourques’ art projects can often be traced to interest in Acadian history and culture combined with a mission to commemorate the achievements of descendants of Afro-Americans in Louisiana. The present Bourque project focuses on the Venerable Henriette Delille, a Creole religious born in 1813 in New Orleans whose cause for canonization has been recommended to the Roman Catholic Church and who has been recognized for her charitable works serving the poor, nursing the sick, and educating the illiterate. A Creole, the Venerable Henriette was born into a system called the “Placage,” Creole women trained in the fine arts who became concubines for white Frenchmen in New Orleans. Henriette’s mother brought her up in this system, and in her short life as a concubine, she may have birthed two sons who died before the age of three.

However, when the Venerable Henriette was 24 years old, she experienced a religious experience that led her into service in an unrecognized order of nuns who called themselves the Sisters of the Presentation, opening the first Roman Catholic home for the elderly in the U.S. The Order later became the Sisters of the Holy Family who cared for the indigent, free and enslaved, took into their home elderly women and cared for the sick and dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897. The Order of Sisters of the Holy Family is still functioning in several states of the U.S.

Darrell has just completed a book of poetry about the Venerable Henriette Delille’s life, bearing a working title of Delille, that will be published by Yellow Flag Press and from which he read at the recent Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. He will read from this manuscript at Scottie Beans Theatre Cafe in Church Point at 10 a.m., Friday, Nov. 17 and at 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 18 this week.

Karen Bourque in her studio
Karen has been commissioned to create glasswork depicting the Holy Spirit descending on the Venerable Henriette for one of the windows in Christ the King Church where she and Darrell attend Mass and participate in the charitable work of the church. After lunch, we went into the studio where Karen showed us a smaller version of the glasswork, and Darrell gave us a private reading of “All the Time” (The War of the Pews that took place at St. Augustine’s Church in the Treme of New Orleans} and “Taking Viergela In” featuring an eldercare facility for women who need more than visitation.

Before we headed home, Darrell drove us to view Christ the King Church where Karen’s glasswork will be displayed, taking us through the flat prairie countryside that once belonged to his grandfather. Karen said that she has already been asked to create glasswork for the many windows in the church, but she wouldn’t have enough years to complete such a project. 

At 4 p.m. we left our talented friends who often combine art with charitable missions, remembering what I'd written about them in a poem entitled “Festival of Love” in my book of poetry about the southwestern Louisiana prairie, Above the Prairie: “We are made known/from somewhere else/but were cousins of the crossing/held fixed in joie de vivre,/the joy surviving common ancestors/who sought a promised land/and found it for us/so we could be at table together.”



Photographs of the Bourques by Victoria Sullivan.


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