Wendy Rodrigue puts lessons of art perspective and introspection in place as she gets closer and closer to the floor. Eventually, she is nearly eye-level with a room of second-grade Star Students.
She tells stories of a Louisiana boy who loved art and Cajun culture like the legend of the Loupgarou and the colors of the darkness surrounding his father's coffin shop. One day, he painted the likeness of a favorite pup back to life and forever etched a place for both of them in the art, and heart, of Louisiana. That boy grew up to be famed artist George Rodrigue and the memory of his dog Tiffany was the inspiration for the iconic Blue Dog.
George Rodrigue died in 2013, but his life, work and signature "Blue Dog" lives on and impacts people statewide, like the hundreds of Rollins Place Elementary School students who received a visit from Rodrigue's widow Wendy Rodrigue on Nov. 15 during her “Life and Legacy Tour,” a collaboration between the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts and Louisiana A+ Schools.
While at Rollins Place, Wendy Rodrigue unveiled a special Rodrigue self-portrait, made classroom visits and shared a small display of original artwork from her private collection.
Jennifer Marangos, Rollins Place principal, said this is the third year the school has benefited from the work of the George Rodrigue Foundation because of its designation as a Louisiana A+ school, a system of arts-in-education integration.
"This is the first year Wendy Rodrigue has personally visited the school," she added.
Louisiana A+ Schools is a research-based, whole-school network with a mission of nurturing creativity in students through an arts-integrated school network. Arts-integration, a national trend, involves infusing some type of art (visual art, music, performing, etc.) into every classroom and traditional subjects like math, science and history.
Louisiana A+ Schools began in 2013 as an initiative of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, but in 2017, after several years of success, the Rodrigue family transitioned LAA+ into its own nonprofit organization to ensure its growth and sustainability.
"The kids get to view the original works," Marangos said. "It shows her and the foundation’s commitment to arts in the schools and arts integration and teaching all content through art and teaching art through content."
During a tour of the school, visitors marveled at art on display and the large art center that allows traditional learning with an art backdrop. "Some days, I might say 'let's go have math class in the art room,'" said second-grade teacher Kristi Gilpin.
The Zachary leg of the tour ranged from whimsical to touching. Marangos said Wendy Rodrigue came into contact with 600 of her 800 students in both small and large-group sessions. Wendy Rodrigue read to a small group of star students and was treated to a thank-you assembly where students sang and played music. The foundation left a special piece of art with the school and the students gave Wendy Rodrigue a print of a collective creation of their art.
"Having these programs, people don't know, it's so important," Wendy Rodrigue said. "It's not us, we just support it; we want to see it work."
George Rodrigue encouraged his wife to write a book about their life and work before his 2013 death. Wendy Rodrigue is running a relay race of sorts leaving a little bit of the Rodrigue legacy every she goes. Even her book-signing ritual is flavored by his passion and drive. "George made me promise to sign in every single book 'Enjoy life!'" she recalled.