George Dureau: Part 2, Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food / June 2014
a monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans
Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food
by Leonard Earl Johnson
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George Dureau, 1930~2014,
before the Freeman Courtyard Gates, co-created with Ersey Swartz,
at the New Orleans Museum of Art
Photo credit: George H. Long
was a New Orleans parade-master like most of us would be, if we could.
He was born in New Orleans and became an artist renowned in his hometown and abroad. His work graces iconic metropolitan spaces like the walls at Gallier Hall on Saint Charles Avenue (1862 City Hall, when New Orleans fell to Farragut's landing party). His rendering of Artemis, Greek Goddess, twin of Apollo, tops the pediment at Harrah's Casino on Canal Street. And his works rest in museums around the World.
"Show me someone with those credits," L. A. Norma said, flicking a Camel Cigarette from the steps of the Patrick Taylor Library at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, "and we'll both be looking at some-great from Big Swamp City, New Orleans." We are here for Dureau's memorial starting inside momentarily. The Library is tucked behind the Confederate Museum, housing swords and remnants of New Orleans first Carnival. Commenting once on the old museum's dreariness, Dureau said he would do it as a"Roman romp."
Why he didn't romp too far from home.
Like they say in France, "Why travel when you are here!?"
Dureau grew up along Bayou Saint John and never moved too far away. "I lived in twelve houses," he told Otis Fenneley, in a You-tube video biography by David Zalkind. The three are standing on Frenchmen Street outside FAB, Fenneley's Faubourg Marigny Art and Books. Fenneley was not born here, but both men are true sons of New Orleans and longtime friends. Zalkind in earlier days clerked at the bookshop.
"The elder artist stopping on his bicycle ride through his epic memories to visit his old friend and shopkeeper," Norma whispered.
Fenneley constructed a window-memorial from some old charcoal sketches and fragments of broken sculpture. It faces Chartres street traffic and the tourist-popular Praline Connection restaurant and candy store across the street.
Once he lived in an exquisitely dilapidated mansion on Esplanade Avenue. Another time, in a large second-floor space overlooking Cabrini Park (the dog park in the Quarter) from a curved gallery over a street-level book store named Kaboom (post-Katrina, moved to Houston). Its erudite owner was famous in the neighborhood -- as Dureau would say, opening his hands beside his large face, "For knowing more about everything than anyone else cared to know."
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Later he met Kate Nachod, who worked as a research librarian at the Louisiana Supreme Court on Royal Street. He walked her from car to Court. "A famous artist makes me breakfast," the smitten Nachod told her friends. She watched over him in his final years. The two effectively adopted each other.
Kenneth Holditch, Tennessee Williams Professor Emeritus at the University of New Orleans gave eulogy remembering he had delivered the same for Dureau's Mother's memorial. "He asked I do this for him, today."
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