Stand near the state seal and listen.
It’s located on the floor in the center of the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion’s rotunda. It’s also where doors to the men’s and women’s restrooms discreetly blend with the mansion walls.
And it’s where the best conversations are generated by those exiting the restrooms, all expressing amazement at artwork by three emerging Louisiana artists.
Peek inside, and you’ll surely be amazed, too. These artists’ paintings brighten walls near the sink and in the stalls.
So, if there’s so much talk surrounding it, why is this artwork relegated to the restrooms?
“I told them we couldn’t hang their work in the drawing room or the dining room, because those rooms are for the other artists,” Supriya Jindal said. “But I told them we would hang their work in the restrooms.”
As it turns out, the location has given rise to the artists’ popularity, because most everyone eventually will visit the restrooms at one point or another. When they do, they can contemplate Selia’s “Elephant Stomp of Love” and Shaan’s “Gustav’s Eve.” And Slade? He’s emerging in the art world, too.
They’re the Jindal kids, children of Gov. Bobby and first lady Supriya Jindal. They’re also among the state’s artists whose work hangs in the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion.
As is Supriya Jindal.
“This one is mine,” she said, opening a stall door in the ladies’ room.
The painting appears to be an impressionist landscape dominated by hues of purple and dusky pink. Or it could be the Louisiana autumn sky at sunset hit by a seasonal wave of pink, cotton candy clouds.
“It’s really interesting to hear the conversations of people as they exit the restrooms,” Jindal said.
“We paint together in the backyard,” she continued. “It’s fun to see what they’re going to paint.”
It’s also fun to see how their work fits in with that by their fellow Louisiana artists. Those are the “other artists” to which Jindal earlier referred when explaining why her children’s work hangs in the restrooms.
The other artists’ work fills the drawing room, the dining room and the hallways, offices and bedrooms, transforming the mansion into a showcase for Louisiana talent.
This is a tradition begun and handed down by former Louisiana first lady Alice Foster during her project to refurbish the mansion in 1996. Foster began by creating the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion Foundation, a
- onprofit entity dedicated to both maintaining and preserving the mansion.
The project also called for artwork by Louisiana artists as part of the mansion’s decor. All of the work is on loan, and pieces are often changed out when artists request return of their work.
“Sometimes they have buyers for their work or they need it to show in galleries or art shows,” Jindal said. “So, we’re always on the lookout for artwork, and we’re always taking submissions.”
The Governor’s Mansion accepts submissions by email. Artists are asked to attach images of their work to their requests.
And Supriya Jindal is the juror. She decides what will hang and where.
This also is part of the tradition begun by Foster - the lady of the house chooses the artwork.
Now, Gov. Kathleen Blanco shared double duty as governor and lady of the house during her administration, so she was involved in the process. The duty fell to Jindal when her husband was elected governor in 2007.
“I didn’t know about it,” Jindal said. “And it was daunting at first. We had to start from the beginning.”
This also is part of the tradition. Each first lady starts from scratch, choosing the pieces that not only will fill the walls of the mansion but the governor’s office during the administration.
“Roger Ogden from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans helped us get started,” Jindal said. “He helped us choose some pieces and loaned some.”
Then Jindal became more comfortable with the process and began choosing pieces on her own.
Listen to her story, and it’s almost as if she is seeing her surroundings in a different way. She noticed decor when walking into buildings before, but now she really notices.
When impressed by original artwork, she takes note of its creator. Sometimes those works are shown at the Governor’s Mansion.
Take, for instance, Donna Marie Aucoin’s untitled ink on copper pieces in the dining room. Jindal discovered them when shopping at Aucoin Hart Jewelers in Metairie.
“They caught my eye, and they were just beautiful,” she said. “I asked about them, and I learned that they were done by the store owner’s mother.”
Aucoin painted color ink on copper squares, then applied the squares to a wooden surface. The result is festive, like a jeweled candy wrapper or reflections of Christmas lights sparkling in the rain.
Aucoin creates work on commissions and shows in galleries, but her name isn’t as well known as such Louisiana artists as Hunt Slonem, James Michalopoulos and George Rodrigue, but it doesn’t matter. Jindal considers all artists regardless of name recognition.
“We like to show work by well-known artists in Louisiana, but we also like to show work by artists who aren’t as well-known,” Jindal said. “We also like to show work by local artists to give them recognition.”
Two such pieces can be found in the drawing room and foyer. They’re by New Roads artist Josephine Busse.
The fleur de lis dominates Busse’s canvases, which are filled with vivid blues and purples resembling south Louisiana marshland landscapes. The fleur de lis symbols are painted in a different texture, making them appear in another dimension on the canvas.
“I just love these,” Jindal said. “I especially love her use of the fleur de lis.”
Again, artwork is located throughout the mansion, but this tour takes place on the mansion’s first floor, which is most visible to the public. Joining the work by Aucoin and Busse are pieces by the big names.
Michalopoulos’ New Orleans Vieux Carre scene hangs directly across from Slonem’s massive painting especially created for the Jindal administration.
Slonem used Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life” as a basis for this piece. Two angel-like images stand in front of the tree, which is filled with words.
“The words are symbolic of Bobby,” Jindal said.
Another of Slonem’s paintings, “Migration,” can be found in the dining room. This is a massive piece that covers the better part of an entire wall.
Though Slonem lives in New York, he is definitely a Louisiana artist, having studied at Tulane University and now owning plantation homes in Jeanerette and Batchelor. He spends several days each month at both homes, and his work is included in Louisiana museum collections.
Back in the drawing room, hanging in the most prominent space in the front is New Orleans artist George Schmidt’s 2009 painting “Believe in Louisiana.” Schmidt created the work in honor of Jindal’s 2008 inauguration. In it, a pelican descends on a nest filled with three baby pelicans representing the three Jindal children.
Yes, the very same children who help make up the mansion’s roster of Louisiana artists.
Schmidt’s “Believe in Louisiana” served as the official inauguration portrait.
Artwork by another artist named George occupies prominent spaces in both the drawing and dining rooms. The governor named him Louisiana’s artist laureate, and the artist’s last name, of course, is Rodrigue.
Visitors will recognize his portrait of the Jindals on the opposite end of the drawing room from Schmidt’s painting. They’ll especially take note of the Blue Dog sitting next to the Jindals.
Those who have attended the LSU Museum of Art’s retrospective show of Rodrigue’s work, Blue Dogs and Cajuns on the River, also will take note that the portrait isn’t an original. The original currently hangs in the show.
“This is a giclee,” Jindal said. “The original actually belongs to a private collection, so we’ve never had it here. What’s funny is that when George began work on this painting, he photographed Bobby and me separately. So, we were really curious about how the portrait would turn out, and there we were together.”
Another Rodrigue piece, “Blue Dog Hurricane” hangs at the head of the dining room, the Blue Dog’s ear meshing with the swirls of the forming hurricane. This is one in Rodrigue’s hurricane series, of which some pieces also hang in the LSU Museum of Art’s show.
The artist laureate’s artistic influence can be seen in the mansion in other ways.
In 2010, the White House asked for ornaments representing the 50 states to decorate the National Christmas Tree. Jindal and Rodrigue asked students at Galiano Elementary School to do the honors.
Galiano was one of the south Louisiana communities that took a hit from the BP oil spill in 2010.
“We wanted to highlight work by kids in one of these communities,” Jindal said.
Jindal and Rodrigue traveled to Galiano to join the students in creating the ornament. Several large ornaments were made, their clear surfaces covered by purple, green and gold Mardi Gras beads.
The beads were cut to form a Louisiana-shaped window in the clear surface, revealing - what else? - the Blue Dog peering out from the inside.
“We wanted to keep one to display here,” Jindal said.
Other students’ artwork is featured in the mansion, as well. Jindal’s office contacted schools throughout the state, requesting student artwork. A wall between the front entrance and the rotunda has been dedicated to students’ work, which is rotated monthly.
The featured work this month was chosen by the Louisiana Art Educators Association, featuring student designs for a Louisiana flag.
Now, students in this case are kindergarteners to 12th graders.
“All of the students are invited to come and tour the mansion and see their work,” Jindal said. “They can bring their friends and families and classes. It’s amazing to watch their reactions when they see their work. They’re so proud, and they all do wonderful work.”
Then, of course, there’s the work by the mansion’s students-in-residence.
Call them the talk of the mansion when visitors exit the restrooms talking about Shaan Jindal’s “Periwinkles” painting created by using actual periwinkles as a paintbrush.
Or Selia Jindal’s “The Zoo Goes to LSU” painting, showing her vision of what a zoo’s visit would be like at LSU on a Tiger football game day.
There’s plenty of purple and gold to go around, as well as impressions of zoo animals.
But if you want to know what Selia’s very favorite animal is, glance above the sink. That’s where her “Elephant Love Stomp” can be found in its bright yellows, paying tribute to her all-time favorite animal.
But there also is a serious side to the Jindal children’s work. It can be found in Shaan Jindal’s painting inspired by televised computer hurricane tracking images as Hurricane Gustav approached the Louisiana coast in 2008.
The canvas is filled with swirls, the background is murky.
“You don’t realize just how a hurricane affects a child until you see something like this,” Jindal said. “You can see it in his artwork.”
Which makes Shaan Jindal’s artwork all the more a part of Louisiana history, earning its place among the Governor Mansion’s roster of Louisiana artists.
For a photo gallery of images accompanying this story, go to: http://theadvocate.com/multimedia/photos/591078-93/ladys-choice-photo-gallery.html