Monthly Archive: March 2012

Red Raft

March 14th, 2012 Miscellaneous No comments






   This was the first image to come  to me, in this series,  after I was reading about Capt Shreve, who opened up steamboat traffic  on the Mississippi and cleared the Red Raft, a 150 mile log jam clogging the Red River with his invention the “Snag-boat”. Shreveport was named after him. What’s also interesting about him  is that he played a part in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. He piloted the Brownsville, Pennsylvania built “Enterprise” delivering guns and supplies to Andrew Jackson and the troops defending New Orleans against the British. Because he violated inventor and artist Robert Fulton’s Monopoly of steamboat traffic on lower Mississippi he was put in jail. When he was released he piloted the Enterprise back up to Brownsville. After returning to New Orleans with a new double decker shallow draft steamboat In 1816 (after Robert Fulton’s death ) he broke the Fulton-Livingston monopoly and opened up the Lower Mississippi to more steamboat traffic, with all the myriad opportunities for trade, commerce, entertainment and even steamboat racing.


     In 1986 when I had first started on painting like I do now, I was offered a trip to be the “artist ” on a steamboat trip up the Mississippi from New Orleans .I was very poor at the time and any change of pace was welcome. So I got in my old blue truck and made my way to New Orleans to get on the steamboat. I had made an appointment to show my work to a gallery while I was there and when I arrived at my appointed time, I was pretty much rushed out the door as soon as I arrived. So much for the Bienville Gallery.  I licked my wounds and made my way to the boat and my contact there- a cruise director of some sort.  She had a younger assistant Cheryl who would be handling my situation. I was hired to be the artist for the cruise and I was to show my paintings and  give a painting demonstration that Saturday at noon though the early afternoon, about 3 hours. We left on a Friday, so that would be the next day.. In return I was to get my $150.00 or what ever the amount was and I could eat and drink as much as I wanted ,watch as many movies as I wanted in the theater ,and sleep as much as I wanted in my 3rd deck berth. If there were any sales I would get all the money. The steamboat would slowly make it’s way up river stopping at plantation homes and points of interest along the way and in the course of the week we would turn around and make our way back to New Orleans. 


    When I arrived at the opening cruise dinner party that evening I was seated next to a genial geriatric group at my table. I looked around and to my surprise most of the people there were retirees. There was no one younger than 70. The main tour director took the podium and started talking about the boat , safety issues, the itinerary ,entertainments on board, the 7 different buffets that were laid out during the day and night, then finally the personalities. He started with the captain and crew. The actress Helen Hayes was on board, was introduced and took a bow. Eventually after introducing seeming like everyone even the bathroom attendants, I was introduced and took my bow. I felt like an oddity, a curiosity, like an ostrich at a zoo. I guess it didn’t help much that I had long hair and a beard. Helen and her party seated at the next table turned and looked  at me. I slunked down and tried to hide. I felt like a grandchild. The food was put out buffet style, with a wide variety served and was rather rich. I had been on the rice and beans diet, and probably showed it, weighing in at 145-150. I wasn’t drinking much alcohol at the time so after I ate my little portion I excused myself and disappeared out on the deck to catch the evening air. We had departed and being on the rear deck , near the paddle wheel, on the Mississippi River was in retrospect the best part of the experience. After the sun had set I made my way in the shadows through the gambling parlor where old men were piling up plastic chips and  pretending they were riverboat gamblers. In the distance there was music. I walked back on deck and was looking through the portholes as I passed each one. There was a dance- big band music in the main salon. Elderly couples were cruising about. Dinner had been cleared and the orderlies were  laying out the mid evening buffet. I got bored and figured I would go see a movie. I looked at my map of the boat and the theater was on the 5th deck, in the bowels of the ship. When I finally negotiated the maze of tunnels I found the door – a hollow core door  with a gold anodized plate spelling out “THEATRE” in black caps. there was no  marquee, no posters with coming attractions. I opened the door and sat down in one of the 10 seats and started to watch the John Wayne movie already in progress. I was alone, I felt alone. In the back corner there was a self serve popcorn machine.I made a some an sat through the end and start of the movie again.  After the movie had arrived back at where  I came in, I retired to my stateroom and crashed. 


     When I got up the next morning I did some yoga and meditated  a while, then figured I would get some breakfast. The buffet line was long and I was informed this was the midmorning buffet , the early morning buffet had been cleared and this was just laid out. There were  every kind of breakfast food and drink I could imagine. I had some orange juice and whole wheat bagels  and hid in the corner and planned out my presentation later on in the day. Helen Hayes and her hanger ons  arrived and sat in their reserved breakfast seating. The orderlies  were deferential to her and even the other passengers moved out of the way to let her pass. I  lurked in the corner and slipped out when I could. “Oh, Mister Pavy !” the assistant tour director “, Cheryl ,who actually was around my age, flagged me down, came running up  and told me that my job started at noon and If i wanted to eat before, the late brunch buffet started at 11 in the ballroom.She was standing a little close. I had just eaten breakfast and now she was planning for more food for me. I nervously smiled and mumbled something about getting it all together for my “gig”. She looked puzzled and asked “a frog gig?” .


    I gathered up all my paints and some canvases and made it up to the top deck where I was to have my demonstration.I had tucked my blonde ponytail in my shirt in the back. Starting time was at noon, so the traffic passing by was heading to the noon buffet in the dining room that had just replaced the mid morning buffet. I put my paintings on the easels supplied to me and started to paint. I was pretty much ignored my everyone. After a while the assistant cruise director came up  and asked how it was going. I  gave a golden evaluation of the trip and  the many interested parties that had stopped by and engaged in art appreciation. It was about that time I saw the Hayes Group approaching. Slowly they walked, talking, enjoying the shade and when they were close Mrs. Hayes actually started to look at my work. She moved from canvas to canvas scrutinizing the images. I had a chance to examine her too. Her raiments were updated 80′s version of 20′s fashion. Old lady clothes, but done stylishly. Her carriage was one of poise. Her companion tugged on her sleeve and pointed to a painting of mine. “OH, look Helen, a bucket of fish”  the words just fell out of her mouth slathered in a southern drawl. Miss Hayes nodded and glanced my way and nodded again. They walked off. I felt like the 4th stooge. I went back to painting a gate scene to a plantation I was doing.  ” Look Wilfred it’s the Ar-tist!”.  I turned my head to face a slightly portly couple. The wife was younger ,50′s I mused ,I had missed her in the sea of 70 years olds. She had a bright red buffont, football helmet type of hairdo, with big glasses and a lilac polyester suit/pants. She had what looked like diamond rings on every finger. The husband was smartly dressed in a light yellow polo shirt with stripes and kaki pants. Crewcut, cologne,red neck, gold rings, gold chains with gold  pendent, I recognized the type; Oil field Trash. He was chewing on a toothpick and sizing me up. The wife was digging through my sketches and prints eagerly like a hamster. He just keep chewing, squinted at me, spit, and finally looked out over the water. I swallowed and started to sweat a little. She started looking at the paintings. “How much is this one?” she was pointing at the bucket of fish. Apparently this was  a hit with the elderly. Why didn’t I paint two? I asked myself. “It’s $200.00” I said. In those days $200 was what I was charging for a small canvas. I could squeeze $800 of living out of  that $200. “Wilfred!?” she whined. “Two Hundred Dollars!?” He looked at me like I was robbing them at knifepoint, then turned his head to her. “Irma, I can get you a bucket of fish for free”. His head moved back and forth, but his body stayed in one place. He kind of looked like a southern Cracker Max Headroom the way he moved his head. When he made a point, he would tilt his head and the words would pour out. “How about $50.00 Blondie?.”  My ponytail had slipped out. I got a  little angry. “Oh, Wilfred! , you are just too Rude.” She looked at me and repeated ” He is just too rude”  shaking her red football helmet hairdo  and fingering my drawings again. Wilfred got a little closer. His head tilted again and the words came out: ” I need my house painted” he said dryly. I looked at her and back at him. He smiled and playfully hit me on the shoulder, although it hurt a bit.  ” Just pay him the money, I want it”  she was shrill at this point and was staring at him. The “want” sounded like “wont” with an o.  I rubbed my shoulder. I felt embarrassed for him, and scared of HER. It’s funny how your adversary becomes your friend in the face of a common foe.  Sheepishly he took out a  large wad of bills  and peeled 2 100′s off the top. I wrapped the painting as she was jabbering something about the plantation. As I handed the painting and thanked him, she told me I reminded her of her nephew, Jessie, who lived somewhere in Alabama.  After all that excitement I went and got a beer to celebrate. I painted my time out with a few more viewers . Then the assistant tour directer showed up again, and told me that my time was up. She was chatting me up a bit as I packed up. ” You know, there’s not a lot of younger people on board this boat” she said. This caught my radar. I took a good look at her : Loose Perm,brunette, kind of plain in a plain way, not my type at all ,but she was right, there was nobody young on this float.  She smiled and walked off saying ” I have to work the Ballroom tonight”. Was  that an invitation? I asked myself? Is she checking me out?  I was puzzled. 

to be continued……….. 


March 5th, 2012 Miscellaneous No comments


   To the north of Lafayette about 6 miles there is the small town of Carencro. When I was in College there were  classmates of mine living there so we were always going north from Lafayette, driving around the countryside communing with nature in our Volkswagens. Carencro is a small town with one main street ending at a church. Passing by the church on sunday morning was like going to an old car show. If you take a left at the church about a block away there is a big house that most of the “back to the country” art crowd lived in at different times. For a while it was called the Amaranth Gallery. I remember going to a few art openings there and that’s where I met my many of my future best friends. 

    The original French  name for the town was St. Pierre, but the current  name, Carencro, might come from several sources. Most probably the name comes from “carencro tete rouge” the french name for the turkey vulture. But there are other colorful stories about the origins of the town name. In one legend the creoles called it Carencro after the flocks of carrion crows or vultures that would roost in the bald cypress trees there. The Attakapas indian legends state there was a great beast or whale that was stranded and died in the bayou and the flocks of vultures came to scavenge on it for weeks. The whale version seems far fetched as Carencro is about 35 miles from the coast. There is speculation that the great beast was a Mastodon, but they have bee extinct by 11,000 BC. Local historians say there were bones found of a Mastodon in bayou carencro in the 1700′s, and they were taken away, but shipwrecked on the way back to France. A certain Mr.Guilbeau supposedly had a femur of a mastodon that he used to crush his Indigo with. Another legend suggests the name comes from the spanish “Carnero” meaning piles of bones. The Spanish used to kill the buffaloes and what was left after they took what they wanted was fodder for the buzzards. This seems more likely the source of the legend of the “great beast”. The area around Carencro was on the southern edge of the range of the Plains Bison. Until recently in Carencro there was a racetrack and plenty of horse farms in the area, and as long as I can remember there was a stockyard there so regardless of the legends the area seems to have  always had grazing areas for livestock or herding animals and the buzzards feed on the remains.

    In the early 70‘s one of my friends played in a rock & roll Band called King Creole. He lived in country east of Carencro where his house overlooked  the escarpment, the ancient levee  of the Mississippi river. King Creole played at Jay’s Lounge and Cockpit frequently. My friend wrote a song entitled “Carencro” that they used to play on their gigs. It was the B side of a record and the A side was song called “Sugar Cane”. I liked the song Carencro so much that I made a ceramic sculpture  that looked like a carpetbag and titled it “Carencro Bag”. I showed this in a few shows and I also told my friend that I had made a ceramic bag after being inspired by his song. He gave me a puzzled look much like most people when I told them I just finished a ceramic accordion shoe or a life size ceramic cajun dance band.

    A few years later when I was moving and cleaning house I was getting rid of some work and decided to give the “Carencro Bag” to my friend.I called him up and he said he  would be happy to have it. I had some  time that day, but my Volkswagen van was broken. I called up my new friend Shannon, who wanted to go out that way to look for indian artifacts. We climbed into his 49 ford and set out for Carencro, going the back way and got lost. We were half heartily looking for familiar road marks when  we drove up the escarpment. Shannon was scanning the fields then pulled over and stopped suddenly. He said: “You see that little mound over there”? and pointed. I looked over to my right at a freshly plowed soybean field. There was a very slight rise in the field. “I guess” I said. Now you see the bigger mound that’s encircling that? He made a big circling movement with his arm. I squintedand yes there was a slight rise of about 4 inches farther off to the left and right. “OK, What’s that?”. He smiled and opened the door poking his head in through the open window. “The little mound is a Indian ceremonial mound and the larger mound was the Village. It’s in the perfect vantage point on top of this ridge”. He hopped the fence and yelled: “C’mon”. I looked around  thinking about the farmer, a shotgun and my butt. There was nothing but plowed fields as far as you could see. I slowly opened the door. it was warm and I was sweating. ”What the hell” I said to myself. I wiped my brow  and looked up to see buzzards circling overhead. I hopped the fence and made my over to the small mound. As I walked over the rows Shannon was doing a strange little dance. He puffed and said: “They didn’t plant yet, so don’t worry, the farmer won’t be around.” “What are you doing?” I asked.  he went on to explain that the ceremonial mounds are where he finds his best artifacts. He started in the middle making a spiral outwards scanning and feeling the ground with his bare feet and sometimes his hands. “ After they plow it’s the best time to look, you never know what you might find”. I started to look myself  keeping one eye on the road. Shannon bent down and picked up a clod. “Here, this looks good, hold on to it” and threw in in my direction. I picked it up , it was heavy. He bent down again, caught his breath, smiled, stretched, breathed out and walked off to the car not saying anything, like he was hypnotized. I followed him back trying to walk in between the rows. I caught up and held the barbed wire while he fit through and he did it for me. We got in the car and he grabbed a shoe box from the back seat. It held a brush and a few sticks. He held the clod over the box and started cleaning off  the dirt. “What is it”? I asked. “I think it’s …..he paused and started to clean harder. I looked down. It WAS a rock, red, smooth. He worked on  it with the brush. After about 2 minutes he held up the rock. It was about 5 inches long perfectly smooth like a beach pebble but it came to a blunt point on the front .The front was about 3  inches high and tapered down to 2 inches at the back. “It’s a ceremonial cert” he said. “ A hatchet”. I wondered out loud if he had some kind of indian radar to just go walk out in a field and pick up any artifact that was out there. He laughed and motioned after handing me a rag. “ Wet it with some of your coke”. I poured some coke on a rag and started to rub on the stone. The dirt turned to mud and I wiped it off and cleaned more. The stone turned bright red. He turned it over. I cleaned some more, there was a black swatch on the side. I cleaned more, and  rubbing the stone again the black streak grew longer, then a wing appeared, then another wing, then a head. I quit rubbing.“Whoa, it’s a vulture” we both said .The rock puzzled us. It was not like any indian arrowhead or hatchet I had ever seen. The image of the vulture had been chipped with a tiny tool. It was slightly more rough in texture than the other part of the rock and had pigment rubbed in. We passed it back and forth turning it over and rubbing it for probably 10 min. The shadows were starting to get long so I told him I had to go. Shannon handed the rock back to me and started the car. We turned the corner and there on the side of the road was a dead deer surrounded by vultures. Most of them flew off as we  approached, but there was one that stayed turning his head and watching us intently as we passed. Finally we arrived at my destination. I took the sculpture down out of the trunk, made for the front door and knocked .The sun had set and the june bugs were flying around the yellow bug light on the porch. I knocked again, nobody was home. I set the bag down and ripped a page off the notebook nailed to the door frame. I sketched a picture of a vulture and  tucked it in the screen door next to my sculpture, then followed the beams of light back to the car. We drove back to Lafayette in silence in the dark.