Brian Fourroux sits between his dad and Louisiana painter Robert Rucker in the Oyster Bar. His mom and wife sit at the far end of the bar. Everyone’s smiling.

“Bob put himself in the painting, and if you look closely there are paintbrushes in his shirt pocket,” says Fourroux. “I was trying to buy Bob’s original ‘Oyster Bar’ painting from its owner in New York. Bob told me he’d paint one for me.”

The painting is one of 26 from Fourroux’s collection that make up the Louisiana State Archives’ exhibit, “Robert Malcolm Rucker: March 28, 1928-March 7, 2001.”

Fourroux, owner of Brian’s Furniture in Port Allen, befriended Rucker after buying several paintings through the artist’s agent in the 1990s. Then he bypassed the agent and started communicating directly with Rucker.

That’s when Mr. Rucker became Bob, and Bob custom painted “The Oyster Bar” for Fourroux in 2000.

The painting is one of several in the group commissioned by Fourroux, including a 60-by-45-inch painting titled, “Hemingbough.” Others, both commissioned and noncommissioned, feature Louisiana landscapes, historical scenes and Louisiana traditions.

“Every painting has a story,” Fourroux says. “Like his painting, ‘Mardi Gras.’ He was bringing it to a show, but it wouldn’t fit in his Crown Victoria. He tried every way to put it in the car, and he finally had to cut it down. He even cut the stars off the tops of the flags.”

Two masked revelers are backed by American flag banners on a float in “Mardi Gras.” Rucker may have removed the stars at one time, but they’re back now.

“I asked him to paint the stars back in the painting when I bought it,” Fourroux says.

And Rucker replaced them with such skill, viewers would never know they were missing.

Rucker was born in 1928 in New Orleans, where he opened a gallery in the French Quarter at age 16. He contracted polio at 17, which prompted the Louisiana Department of Education to fund classes for him at the John McCrady School of Fine Arts in New Orleans.

It was at the McCrady school that Rucker developed a painting style he used to depict the life, culture and traditions of New Orleans, Louisiana and the surrounding countryside of the Mississippi Delta.

Rucker is probably best known for his steamboats.

“His love of them came from his family, having two grandfathers who were steamboat captains,” states the biography at robertrucker-art.com. “He produced many variations on the theme during his career. He is also well known for various bayou scenes and the south Louisiana countryside, themes that he eventually began to render in an impressionistic style and often with pastel tones during the late 1970s and early 1980s.”

Fourroux spent lots of time with Rucker before the artist’s death in 2001.

“We’d go visit and eat with him, and he’d always have a story,” Fourroux says. “We still love his art, but we miss our friend.”