A Visit With Three Bayou Artists
December 15, 2003
Rhea's Journal 3

While in Chauvin, I visited with three delightful artists who live and work on Bayou Petite Caillou. Emily Neal, Karen Kelly and Carolyn Pelligren were all born and have spent most of their lives on the bayou. Over the years, they have seen many changes as the land around them continues to disappear. Karen said she now goes fishing where her grandmother's home used to be. Seagulls and pelicans were everywhere. The ladies told me that they were never this close to the Gulf when they were growing up. All three remember Bayou Petite Caillou when it was just wide enough for small boats. Now, the bayou is much wider, probably from boat wake erosion. Carolyn lives on the west, or right descending side of the bayou. She said that every May when the small community turns out for the blessing of the fleet, she loses another inch or so of land as the decorated boats parade down the bayou. When Carolyn extended an invitation to visit next year to attend the fleet blessing, I was thrilled to accept.

We talked a long time about times past and what the families of each did to earn a living in bayou country. The fathers of all three of these ladies were shrimpers. Carolyn's family operated shrimp drying platforms near the Gulf of Mexico just below Morgan City. She recalled living for several months at a time on the platforms when she was a child. All the platforms blew away during one hurricane or another and were never rebuilt. Today, many families that were historically shrimpers have left the industry and now work in various oil field related jobs. Emily, Carolyn and Karen told me that as a result of low prices brought about by foreign competition, shrimpers simply can't make ends meet anymore. Most had big losses last year and this year the price for shrimp at the dock is so low that shrimpers can't cover the price of fuel and ice, not to mention the upkeep of their boats.

Emily and Karen began taking art lessons in 1974 after their children started school. Carolyn started painting seriously in 2002. After Hurricane Andrew, she had a broken back and neck. She occupied herself during the long recovery by watching painters on television, which encouraged her to try her hand at painting. Carolyn also spends her time creating interesting sculptures of local wildlife.

All of the ladies are active members of the Terrebonne Fine Arts Guild formed in 1963. This vibrant organization is one of Louisiana's most active guilds. This organization sponsors workshops and also has a member gallery in downtown Houma at 630 Belanger Street. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 4. The Guild also sponsors a spring art show which I am pleased to be judging this coming March. It is always encouraging to me to see so many people actively pursuing their creative interests.

I always think back to a time when I was not pursuing my art full time. My first job was in Houma - fresh out of LSU and I fondly remember attending the Guild's first art show ever. It was one of the events that sparked my interest in becoming an artist. I know how important it is that people learn to do what they were created to do, and for this reason, I was honored several years ago to teach one of the Guilds' workshops. All of my students were delightful to teach and fun to be with. Enjoying life to the fullest comes easy down the bayou.

As my visit ended, Emily said something to me that said it all about their love for the place in which they live. She said "there is no where else we would rather be. It is peaceful and quiet. It is beautiful and mysterious . . . the best classroom in the world." That was enough to inspire me to get back to my easel and paints.