Friday, February 24, 2012

New Orleans 2012: Valley Ridge Art Studio, Michael de Meng, and La Fantome Maison; Mission Accomplished

When last we were discussing my project from NOLA, I knew all along that in order to get it home in my tool box it was going to have to stay very north-south.  It was always my intention to make it east-west when I got home.

The cool thing about junkin' your own basement is you can always find something that works.  I have a bin full of things that are flat and round and when I dove into it I pull out this rusty circle that I remembered thinking it was so cool when I bought it, probably for 50c, until the guy told me it was an old basketball hoop.  Now, it was still cool, but not that cool--but now I had picker's freeze--no way was I going to put this back.  It came home and now became the perfect addition to my piece.

I have also fallen in love with what I call barn nails.  I have them in every size from less than an inch to almost four inches in length.  For this project, I wanted the nails to not be symetrical but rather seem to make the piece flow inward and outwards, so I attached a ton of various length nails.

I also have fallen in love with lighting everything up like a Christmas tree.  I am not sure when this would ever be exhibited in a dark gallery but I think it is a cool effect, especially because of the subject of the transfer.

The use of text was very important as I told you before and I was chilled a little at the random but significant way the words appeared in the area of the shrine where gifts can be left.

I am really happy with the look of the piece.  Here is my story about what it means.

The tintype photo is a picture of the woman who haunts this work and the spirit to whom the offerings are made.  She once had her man and he loved her like no other woman.

But, as sometimes happens, a woman can do something very wrong.  Unintentional, accidental, unavoidable.  When this woman made her mistake, her man loved her so much that he confessed to her crime.  Ultimately, he was sacrificed to his good intentions.  Did this set the woman free?  Would he have suffered worse without her?  Does she suffer more knowing she lost him to her own actions? 

The answer is there is not a day she did not feel such guilt that eventually she was swallowed up by the pain and committed suicide.  His noble deed has only made her feel worse.  Her ghost still roams, unable to reconcile how his good deed did not abolish her bad actions, and thus she becomes Our Lady of Unintended Consequences. 

So, after 20 hours of work and about $25 worth of materials, we have a finished NOLA shrine. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Orleans 2012: Valley Ridge Art Studio, Michael de Meng, and La Fantome Maison; The Last Round Up

Although the last post said it was day three and four, I believe it was also day five. Of course, I don't often read my own blogs. 

OK, yes I do.  And when I did I realized that time had little meaning for me in NOLA. 

Anyway, day six was Saturday, February 4th, and this day I joined a group headed to Camellia for lunch. Unfortunately, the place was packed with a long line so I decided to do a Subway and wander around taking pictures.  The most amazing thing about NOLA is that no matter which direction you walk anytime, there is something going on.  Today I was in the Jackson Square area and stumbled on these:

Saturday afternoon was the end of our play time and in a Michael de Meng workshop that means you can work all you want until you hear the theme music from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  The bad news is that when that happens, Michael says it is "Pencils down!" time.  The good news is that Master, Oh My Master then does a critique of each person's efforts.  Everyone learns from a going over of each attendees' work and a good time is had by all.

Here is the cumulative effort from our class.  My apologies to some because the pictures were blurry so I have borrowed some shots from other postings. 

Marilyn Werst and mine

Marilyn Werst

Pam Rogalski and Marilyn Werst

Karen Rexrode

Marline Smallwood

Marci Donley

Marci Donley

Penny McDonald

Carol Clark

Evelyn Finley

Rob McDonald

David Donley

Kelley Clarke (via Katherine Engen)

Lori Burke (via Katherine Engen)

On this nonstop trip, don't think we were done even now.  No, now it was time to kick off Mardi Gras by attending the Krewe du Vieux Parade. 

After the parade, we cabbed it over to the Garden District to one of my favorite spots to eat in New Orleans, Atchafalya at 901 Louisiana Avenue.  For the second year in a row we capped off our adventure with a fine meal with good friends.  Thanks to everyone for making this workshop and tour so special.  A big thanks to Katherine Engen, Michael de Meng, and the best table mate in the art world, Kelley Clarke. 

No doubt about it, this event was...

And, because Valley Ridge, Katherine Engen and Michael de Meng already know they will be back next year, I guess you can say that New Orleans should

in 2013!

To view all the photos from this trip, visit me at

New Orleans 2012: Valley Ridge Art Studio, Michael de Meng, and La Fantome Maison; Part Deux

On the third day of the journey, we actually started the workshop.  I know, you are thinking "about time."  But let me tell you unless you have experienced the spirit of the city of New Orleans, you cannot understand how two days of roaming around this alien landscape can really get you in the mood to make art. 

Once again, this workshop was called La Fantome Maison which translates to The Ghost House.  Our mission was to build a shrine to lost souls so that offerings can be left to appease the spirit world. 

The workshop has a very simple structure.  Each day we start at 10 and end at 4:30.  You can arrive early and stay late and even skip lunch.  When I take an on site Valley Ridge workshop, I will often do this and have spent as much as 15 hours at the bench working on projects while on the farm.  But, I hope I don't have to remind you--this is NOLA, baby, and there are toooooooooo many distractions to work 15 hours. 

Here is what a well stocked war room looks like when I get going at a workshop. My table mates at this workshop were Kelley Clarke and Pam Rogalski.  I like have partners at a workshop because there is a lot of sharing both in terms of supplies and advice that goes on. 

So day one of the workshop was Wednesday, February 1st.  I actually pre-planned my project at home.  I knew I was going to use this cool box I had bought at an estate sale for the base.  At home, I had pre-drilled some holes, added a wooden base so it could stand, and wire up the hanger so it could be hung.

Unbelievably for me, I had also sketched out a drawing of what this shrine would look like.  I also drew a battle plan.  For me, there is nothing worse in a workshop than deciding to glue to things together and realizing that you now have nothing to do for two hours while you wait for it to dry!!!!!  My plan had me working on multiple aspects of the shrine at the same time so I could work on one thing while another dried.  So, if you thought having a plan was amazing, let me tell you something--it actually worked. 

Unfortunately, I took no pictures of the creature who will make up the central core of the box.  A lot of time was spent claying up that structure and painting it so that it could eventually get nailed into the box.

I just want to let you know that occasionally even I get sick and tired of carrying around my camera.  When I looked at this night's agenda, I thought it could be a camera-less night.  I now regret this because I did not get a picture or two but that is the way the lens cap bounces.

We all walked from the French Quarter to the Marigny neighborhood where resides one of Michael de Meng's favorite places in NOLA:  The Spotted Cat at  623 Frenchmen Street.  Some of the group had left earlier to attend free swing dance lessons and my crew arrived just as those were ending.  Then, the most remarkable thing occurred:  swing dancers, in period costumes, just casually walked onto the dance floor and blew the place away.  Talent and energy galore, it made me feel like I was on the set of some old black and white movie.  This may be where I missed my camera the most.  Oh, and the band was hot, hot, hot. 

What could top this?  How about dinner at the Praline Connection Restaurant at 542 Frenchmen Street where our waiter walks up to the table and becomes our best dining experience.  His name was Eyes (because he did have a wandering eye that made you wonder where he was looking) and he started our dining experience with a list of drinks that rivaled the shrimp dishes in Forest Gump.  The punch line was after a ten minute recitation of the drinks, Michael and Andrea walked in to join us and even Eyes thought it was funny that he might have to do it all over again.  During his oration, Eyes mentioned Purple Haze beer and how could I pass that up after taking a picture of Jimi himself the day before. 

The Praline Connection is an African-American New Orleans home cooking establishment and the food is great.  Our appetizer was the small and it had so much food on it that eight (that's right, folks, eight!) diners could not polish it off.  Our main course was good and I even liked the Purple Haze after someone told me that was a girl's beer. 

I am not sure of the significance of this but in many places in New Orleans I found the African American staff to be in a uniform consisting of white shirts and bow ties which I am pretty sure is tied to Malcolm X's Brotherhood.  Maybe I am making too much of this but for the impression it gave me was one of great service, great attitudes and dignity while also turning the clock back to the 1950s.  Impressions everywhere in NOLA. 

This was echoed on Day 4 for breakfast when we walked down to a vintage dinner called Camellia where the staff was attired in this fashion. 

The real delight at Camellia is the food--a great breakfast in a great atmosphere. But even the walk back to the hotel created inspiration--check out some of the early morning sites in NOLA.

Now, it was back to work in the workshop.  Having textured up the box, today I could add a collage of bible pages on the offering deck.  I also worked on finishing the creature of pain for the inside of the box.  I began to paint the box as well. 

That night the crew met in the hotel lounge to walk over to Napoleons' at 500 Chartres Street.  This place specializes in sandwiches and my favorite from 2011 was the muffaletta.  A muffaletta does have bread and meat but for me it is an excuse to have olives on a sandwich. 

This night I made the choice to skip wandering over to the Algiers district on a ferry in order to get back into the workshop and clay/glue down everything so it could sit and dry by Saturday.  I know--what was I thinking?  Actually, I was thinking that if I did not do this I would spend the last day of the workshop picking up the stuff that would inevitably fall off. 

I try to be honest with my friends and tell them that I am a sociopath but no one ever listens.  On the morning of Day 5, I proved my point.  My wingman Kelley was too sick to eat breakfast and I was sitting in the lobby waiting of the rest of the breakfast crew when Master, O My Master Michael de Meng got off the elevator and asked if I wanted to get breakfast in the restaurant in the hotel. That gave me the license to forget everyone else and go in there like one of the Pied Piper's rats.  The morning crew did find The Rat eating with The King but they were understandably confused by my behavior.  Evidently the sociopath message did not get through.  Am I a true sociopath if I still feel bad about this?  (Don't bother to answer--I'm not really listening anyway). 

Our morning was free today and a big number of us decided to do two things:  hit the Metairie Cemetery for a photography excursion and then go junking.  I love these guys!!!!!

As far as junkin' went, it was painful for me.  I was already struggling with issues of how I was going to get my art piece home, so I could not pick up half the stuff I found.  My one real regret was not grabbing an old grate that had a hose bid attached that would have made a great shrine.  I did end up picking up some door handles and some cheap plastic creatures but I sure wish the van had been parked outside because a lot more would have left the NOLA area. 

This afternoon found everyone at Muriel's at801 Chartres St. for lunch and to celebrate the recent wedding of Michael de Meng and Andrea Matus.  Here is the plucky couple:

Then we moved upstairs for a ceremony in the Seance Lounge at Muriel's. Our spirit guide was Manbo Sallie Ann and the ceremony was for Erzulie Freda Dahomey, a Voodoo Spirit who rules over love and beauty.

There is no rest for the wicked on this trip.  This night we went on a Ghost Tour through the French Quarter that was led by a very emotive young man who told his tales with gusto.  Then it was dinner at
 Cafe Amelia at 912 Royal Street where the first part of our dinner featured two women and a man singing opera.  That was thrilling, the food was great and I think we got to bed around midnight.

And some of us laid awake worrying about the upcoming critique of our art projects.

For the rest of the story, see the next blog post or visit all the photos from this trip at