Learn about African-American history at New Orleans’ art museums

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No formal training

Discover other talents by strolling through the other galleries in Ogden. Much of what you will see falls into the category of vernacular art, meaning the work of self-taught artists. Unsurprisingly, black artists — many of whom have refused a formal art education — fill this category. Their work provides a clear insight into the 20th century black experience throughout the South.

Besides Andrews’ work, Sumrall recommends that you don’t miss the work of another artist featured in the museum. “I can’t imagine the Ogden Museum without the constant presence of Clementine Hunter,” he says.

Born in Louisiana at the end of 1886 or beginning of 1887, Hunter lived a century before her death in 1988. Her work is deeply evocative of the State and its values: connection to the land, family, cultural memory, faith, ritual, value of the a person’s job. While Andrews’ paintings have a largely southern perspective, Hunter’s focus incisively on Louisiana, taking you along its back roads and outside its churches. Long after you return home, the mere mention of his name will bring to mind vivid images of the state.

Her 1945 painting “Panorama of Baptism on Cane River” – painted on a window blind – illustrates why she called her art “Paintings of Memory”. It transports you to a baptism at St. Augustine Catholic Church on the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish in central Louisiana. Black parishioners in their finest line along the riverbank, baptized people are in the water, and a man rings a bell outside the church. It’s a scene that Hunter has surely witnessed many times.

Also look for paintings by Thornton Dial and Purvis Young, two other giants of 20th-century vernacular art. Dial, an artist from Alabama who died in 2016, dispels any misconception that self-made artists aren’t innovative in his “Struggling Tiger in Hard Times.” The expansive canvas, measuring 5 feet by nearly 8 feet and incorporating oil, carpeting, industrial sealing compound, rope and tin, struggles and roars.

Unlike Clementine and Dial, Young did not live in a rural area, but rather in Miami, where he died in 2010. He energetically captures the city scene in “Cityscape With Cars.” Pay particular attention to his frames, all of which he built himself with scrap materials given to him or found by him.

Beyond the Paintings

There’s more to the Ogden than paintings. Its other galleries delight in colorful ceramics, fabric pieces, historic and contemporary photographs, metalwork, ordinary objects found in households and neighborhoods transformed into art objects, sculpture, woodworking and more. The museum regularly rotates pieces, so repeat visits usually hold surprises. You might see papier-mâché mannequins one time, and paint soccer balls, seashells, softballs and turtles the next.

Near

The FPC Museum: This Museum, in a Greek Revival-style house on scenic Esplanade Avenue, pays homage to the city’s long heritage of free people of color (fpc): black people who were born free or freed (freed from slavery) before the war civil. About 18,000 of them lived in the city at the start of the war, one of the largest and oldest such communities in the country. The museum features decorative arts, documents (including original postage papers), paintings and photographs that “present, interpret and preserve the history” of this often overlooked group. Due to COVID-19, the museum is currently only open for tours on Fridays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Call 504-323-5074 or visit its website for tickets, released one month in advance.

New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA): Clementine Hunter’s art is also at NOMA, the city’s oldest fine arts institution. NOMA began collecting her work in the 1950s and hosted her first museum exhibition in 1955, one of the nation’s first solo exhibitions for an African-American artist. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; $15 tickets, $10 for adults 65 and over, can be purchased online or in person. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination required for entry.

Algiers popular art area and blues museum: For something less institutional and more personal, venture into this little Museum in the Alger Point neighborhood of the city in the West Bank. Founded by self-taught black artist Charles Gillam in 2000, this eclectic discovery showcases the art of various black folk artists and the history of blues music, including Gillam’s hand-carved and painted portraits of blues legends such as than Louis Armstrong and Memphis Minnie. Fun Facts: Gillam’s father played guitar for Fats Domino, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. acquired Gillam’s depiction of Fats playing the piano on the roof of his studio awash in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Due to COVID, visits are currently by appointment only; 504-261-6231.

Where to stay

For a bit of funk: Historic meets hip at the 162-room Cambria Hotel in the Downtown Warehouse District, conveniently located between the Ogden Museum and the French Quarter. It impresses with its local art and funky decor. Rooms from $98

For a dose of history: Check into Maison Degas, the renovated mansion on Avenue de l’Esplanade where French Impressionist Edgar Degas lived with his family for a year between 1872 and 1873. It was his mother’s childhood home , from a family of important cotton brokers in the city. Now a bed and breakfast run by one of the artist’s distant relatives, the nine-bedroom property houses a small Degas museum. Alas, you won’t find any of his original works here. Rooms from $189

For luxury: Last summer, the 341-room Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans opened downtown, where Canal Street meets the Mississippi River. James Beard’s award-winning chef, Alon Shaya, heads the kitchen at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Miss River, which offers a fiery take on beloved local dishes. Think whole cut-up fried chicken in buttermilk to share and clay pot dirty rice with seared duck breast. Rooms from $465


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