Artist Sara Parker moved around the East Coast a lot in her younger married days due to her husband’s military service, but when it came time to settle down in 1970, she chose Lafayette for its size, the university and closeness to family.
An established and successful artist in Key West, Parker found another home in the Lafayette Art Association, which at the time was beginning an "open studio tour," spotlighting Lafayette artists and their creative spaces. The association sold tickets to the event, raising money to install lighting in the Art Center, now the A. Hays Town building that’s part of the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum.
“We had enough artists at that time who were interesting in opening up their studios,” she explained.
Parker was one of those original artists, and remains part of the Open Studio Tour that was being held in Lafayette on Saturday and Sunday. It features 77 artists at 26 locations throughout Acadiana.
Rules are simple. Visitors are invited to stop at participating artists’ studios, view their creative spaces, enjoy demonstrations and purchase artwork, if desired.
“You just walk in,” said Burnell Lemoine of the Louisiana Crafts Guild, one of the tour’s sponsors. “It’s like a party in the parish. You visit what you want. It’s all over. Free to the public. No cost. Everybody goes all out and it makes it really special.”
Some of the larger sites include the Lafayette Art Association gallery, Hilliard Art Museum, Achilles Print Studio, Basin Arts, the UL-Lafayette Ceramic Arts Studio, San Souci Gallery and Pottery Alley.
Artists include George Marks, Simone Little, Tony Bernard, Robert Dafford and many more. The event stretches beyond the Lafayette city limits and includes the towns of Morse, Arnaudville, Sunset, Breaux Bridge, Washington, Carencro, Scott and Duson.
A colorful history
The Open Studio Tour began in September 1971, with 10 artists, including Parker. Another one of those artists was George Rodrigue, an up-and-coming painter at the time who loved creating dreamy Louisiana landscapes with Cajun narratives. Rodrigue has since claimed international stardom with his famous “Blue Dog” paintings.
Other artists included William Harvey Hinds, well known for his realistic Southern landscapes, and Rollin Tyrrell, the grandfather of participating artist Kelly Guidry.
The tour has been interrupted a couple of times since its inception more than 45 years ago, but Parker, 85, continues to add to this showcase of talent. She’s the only one of the 10 artists on the original tour still producing art.
Before the latest resurrection in 2016, the last open studio tour was in 2005, explained Lemoine.
“Last year, people kept asking why don’t we do the open studio tour and I said let’s do it now,” he said.
The Guild and the Lafayette Art Association sent email invitations to their members in the area and other artists joined through word of mouth, Lemoine said.
“Not everybody participating is in the Guild or the Lafayette Art Association,” Lemoine said. “But the vast majority are.”
“Last year was wonderful,” said Katherine Prejean, a metal artist crafting a copper bracelet on Saturday at the Lafayette Art Association. “A lot of people came to watch the artists and it gave them an appreciation of what they go through to create the art.”
Norma Thompson, who works in acrylics and oils, had a positive experience at last year’s event.
“It was fun because I got to meet a lot of artists and the people who came,” she said, adding with a smile. “And it was profitable.”
Prejean enjoys making money during the event when she sells her creations but sees it more as a way to get the word out about Acadiana’s art community.
“It’s more of two days putting the awareness out of the local art culture here in Acadiana,” she explained. “But we do sell some things.”
“We are blessed with an abundant art scene that is a huge part of our world-renowned cultural community in Lafayette Parish,” said Ben Berthelot, president and CEO of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, one of the tour’s sponsors. “The Open Studio Tour is a great opportunity for our visitors to experience our art scene and interact with some of our great artists in a two-day setting.”
The Open Studio Tour continues on Sunday Brochures and maps of the trail can be found at the Louisiana Crafts Guild’s San Souci Gallery in downtown Lafayette, the Lafayette Art Association in the Oil Center and the Lafayette Convention and Visitor’s Commission office on Evangeline Thruway. Information can also be found online at https://www.openstudioacadiana.com/.
As for Parker, one of the original members of the Open Studio Tour, she’s still hard at work.
“My grandson said you were there in 1971?” she said, referring to the original Open Studio Tour. “I said, ‘Yes and I’m still painting.’”
Recently, Parker took first place in the Lafayette Art Association’s “Eye of the Beholder” competition.
“It’s been a good life and art has opened up so many doors for me,” she said of her experiences in Lafayette. “I’ve met so many people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”