The hospital has been closed since flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But Alferez’s piece, “Louisiana At Work and Play,” is embedded above its front entrance.
A model by Brad Bourgoyne will result in a bronze cast that will hang in LSU’s new Medical Education and Innovation Center in Baton Rouge.
In the meantime, it’s on display in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s exhibit, “Monuments & Metaphors: Art In Public Spaces,” in the state capital.
Alferez, born in Mexico, was a New Orleans artist who created works for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. His best-known sculpture, “Molly Marine,” was the first statue in the United States of a woman in military uniform. It stands at the intersection of Elk Place and Canal Street.
Alferez was commissioned by the state to make the decorative architectural piece for the entrance of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. The 20-story hospital was the second-largest in the United States. Since it closed, the fate of Alferez’s artwork has been in question.
“It can’t be removed from the building,” museum curator Elizabeth Weinstein says. “They’ve tried.”
Sculptor Bourgoyne made an exact digital image of the piece using a vertical man-lift and portable 3-D scanner. He reduced the size, used a computer-controlled router to carve a model in foam and detailed it in clay by hand to make the mold.
“So, though we don’t know what will happen to Alferez’s original work if Charity Hospital is torn down, we have this exact model of his piece in Baton Rouge,” Weinstein says.
Alferez’s relief isn’t the only New Orleans public art that’s migrated to Baton Rouge. Fellow WPA artist Conrad Albrizio’s 1955 mosaic, “Elements of Government,” also has found a home in the capital city.
A photo of the mosaic, along with Albrizio’s preliminary drawings, are included in the show. He was teaching at LSU when he was commissioned to design the piece, which was slated to cover the bullet holes in the wall where Huey Long was shot in the State Capitol.
“But Earl K. Long was governor at the time, and he thought the wall should remain uncovered as a testament of what happened there,” Weinstein says.
So, Albrizio’s mosaic moved to New Orleans, where it hung in the Louisiana Supreme Court Building until 2005, when both the building and artwork were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The mosaic has since been restored and moved to the 19th Judicial District Court Building in Baton Rouge.
Gregory’s name may not be familiar to some New Orleanians, but they will know her work: the 1955 bronze statue of New Orleans’ founder Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, at Bienville Place between Decatur and North Peters streets.
But even more interesting is the story of how Gregory created these monuments, using a metal contraption she called a “point machine.” The instrument once belonged to Auguste Rodin. Yes, the same Rodin who created “The Thinker.”
He passed it to his protege, Antoine Bourdelle, who taught Gregory how to carve stone in his Paris studio. Bourdelle gave it to Gregory the year before his death.
Which is why Jean Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville shares a connection with “The Thinker.”
The stories don’t stop there. The show also includes three designs Baton Rouge sculptor Frank Hayden submitted for the Oliver Pollock monument in Bernardo de Galvez Plaza near the Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. Pollock was an agent of the Continental Congress stationed in New Orleans at the end of the American Revolution. He also served as Bernardo de Galvez’s aide-de-camp during the Spanish campaign against the British in 1779, and he is credited with inventing the dollar sign.
“The story is Oliver Pollock brought nine Americans with him to Louisiana,” Weinstein says. “The nine Americans are portrayed in each design. In the piece that’s chosen, the nine can be seen in the area beside his face.”
Weinstein leads the way to the second part of the exhibit, which highlights contemporary artists’ works commissioned through the Louisiana Division of the Arts’ Percent for Art program and Baton Rouge’s Museum of Public Art and The Walls Project.
Though Alferez made his relief in 1939, it’s included in this part of the show through Bourgoyne’s digital work. Also included are two kinetic sculptures by New Orleans artist Lin Emery. Both are stand-alone pieces but are reminiscent of her 9-foot piece, “Anthem,” which stands on Third Street outside the Louisiana State Library.
“She also made a maquette out of paper for this show,” Weinstein says. “She designs her sculpture from pieces of paper before she works with metal. She calls these pieces of paper her sketches.”
Those who may not know Emery by name probably are familiar with her sculpture, “Wave,” which once stood in the fountain at the entrance of the New Orleans Museum of Art. It now stands in the museum’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden behind the museum.