The invitation said “Come see the Heart of North Louisiana.” That was the focus of our trip, and we did see a lot of art. But it wouldn’t be Louisiana without lagniappe – a little something extra.
The big picture, I mean really big – building-size big. Among the many pieces of public art, Shreveport has some of the most amazing murals you’ll see anywhere.
“A Call to Action” by artist Ali Bahler stretches 75 feet across the side of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. Painted in brilliant acrylics, it is highlighted with LED neon flex lighting elements – a great, big salute to Shreveport’s culture and attractions.
My favorite murals are on two walls of the AT&T building – ideal because there are no windows. Eight stories tall and covering 25,000 square feet, “Once in a Millennium Moon” is one of the nation’s largest public art murals.
On the south wall, a woman in a flowing gown holds in her hand a flaming orb symbolizing hopes and dreams for the future. The east wall is a masterful combination of images representing not only the city’s history but the cycle of life.
From a pool of myriad subjects, nineteen people from ages three months to 80 years were selected randomly to represent the diversity of the community. In addition, 40 mementos were included, each with a story to tell. The figures and items are identified on a nearby plaque.
Artist Meg Saligman divided the work into a grid. Participating painters filled in the picture like a paint-by-number creation on sheets of plastic which were then attached to the building much like wallpaper. Over 2,500 people worked on the mural, with the community completing almost half of all the work.
Shreveport is also home to some true frescoes created by Conrad Albrizio. Surrounding the entrance to the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, they depict the industries and people of Louisiana.
Inside the museum are 21 detailed dioramas showing the agriculture, science and industry of the state. A variety of exhibits from a George Rodrigue Blue Dog painting to a thousand-year-old Caddo canoe make a visit here an interesting one.
Perhaps Shreveport’s most visible installation consists of six tall steel roses “planted” along the riverfront – an appropriate symbol of the town that is the headquarters of the American Rose Society. Their gardens are the largest in the U.S. dedicated to roses, with 20,000 rose bushes and companion plants.
The family of oilman R.W. Norton donated their collection to create the R.W. Norton Art Gallery. The holdings span four centuries of European and American art. The gallery sits on 43 acres with gardens, scenic walkways and outdoor sculpture.
Three hundred-year-old Natchitoches is not noted as an art town but is itself pretty as a picture. Its historic center has been designated a National Historic District. Businesses along the main street are festooned with fancy wrought-iron filigree. Across the street, gardens lead down to the picturesque Cane River. Spanish moss drips from the trees and you expect to see Shelby, M’Lynn and Truvy, the original Steel Magnolias, sashaying down the sidewalk.
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum here is currently home to primitive artist Clementine Hunter’s famous murals of life on Melrose Plantation. Melrose, south of Natchitoches, is a significant site on the Cane River Heritage Trail Scenic Byway.
Born in the late 1880s, Hunter grew up on plantations, at Melrose from age 14. In the 1930s, plantation owner Cammie Henry created a retreat for artists. At age 54, Hunter, a servant, was given paints by a guest and began painting and selling her works for as little as 50 cents. Today collectors may pay up to $10,000.
Visitors to Melrose Plantation can see a number of Hunter’s paintings and her small studio. She painted the murals in the early-1800s African House, one of the most unusual structures on the property. The murals are on display in Natchitoches while this building undergoes restoration.
With a population of just under 50,000, Alexandria has made a big commitment to the arts. Its designated Cultural Arts District includes the Alexandria Museum of Art, which showcases southern art and artists who worked in the region, and the River Oaks Square Arts Center.
The Arts Center is an aggregation of working artists, gallery space and exhibitions, classes and a gift shop. Visitors can watch artists work and discuss their art – or craft – with them. Items in the shop are selected by a jury process, guaranteeing the quality of works for sale. A purse-pleasing action by the city exempts original works purchased in the Cultural District from taxes.
Last but Not Least, Lagniappe!
The emphasis on this trip was on art, but there were extras. Here are some of my favorites:
Laysone’s in Natchitoches: Laysone’s has been serving amazing meat and crawfish pies for almost 50 years.
Tunk’s Cypress Inn on Kincaid Lake west of Alexandria: No better place on a summer night than on the patio beside the water with a big platter of boiled crawfish!
Cajun Landing, Alexandria: Owner Lonnie McDonald serves up 50 gallons of seafood bisque with crab, shrimp and crawfish tails a week.
Parc England Boutique Hotel, Alexandria: This property offers large, elegantly appointed rooms and lots of extras.
Cypress Bend Resort on Toledo Bend Reservoir: What a great place to escape! We sipped icy lemonade and snacked on mini-meat pies and jalapeno poppers on a beautiful patio overlooking the golf course and lake. Check out golf and fishing packages. Close to Natchitoches for shopping, not too far from Alexandria, it offers options for those who prefer casting a line or swinging a club. And for posh pampering, a spa treatment is a great way to end a full day.
For more info, visit:
shreveport-bossier.org // ExploreLouisianaNorth.org // natchitoches.com // theheartoflouisiana.com // cypressbend.com