‘The Tribe’ reflects on Fred Daspits incalculable contributions to Lafayette’s cultural life.
In the summer of 1965, a 17-year-old high school graduate was assigned to work as Fred Daspit’s student assistant in the USL fine arts department gallery. The student’s high school teacher, Terry Girouard, had nurtured his interest in the visual arts, and the 35-year-old Daspit would now introduce the university student to the basics of exhibition planning and design. Fred could not have imagined that one day his student assistant would become a museum director and secure major funding from Paul and Lulu Hilliard to build a new University Art Museum at UL Lafayette. I was Fred’s student assistant in 1965, and working with him profoundly altered the trajectory of my life. Fred died July 8 after a brief illness. He was 83. I recently asked some of Fred’s personal friends, former students and university colleagues to reflect upon his contributions. Their statements illustrate the love and respect the community has for our native born “renaissance man.”
— Herman Mhire, artist, photographer and former director of University Art Museum
Fred Daspit knew the magic and the power of the story. It’s what made him a great teacher. My fondest memories of Fred: going on a River Road tour of houses he was researching for his incredible books about Louisiana architecture, hearing him talk of the accomplishments of his children, eating one of Jeannine’s artfully presented meals, and reveling in the pageantry of St. Martinville Mardi Gras. What Fred possessed was rare and beautiful and true. Fred’s courses were requisites for my children and the students I mentored at USL/UL, so they could benefit from the gifts of his imagination, his stories, his keen intelligence, and his immense storehouse of knowledge.
— Darrell Bourque, poet, UL professor emeritus and former Louisiana poet laureate
What I’ve always admired about Fred’s approach to teaching the history of art was the way he brought forth the people behind the objects. Rather than focus solely on iconic masterworks with reverential distance and awe, Fred broadened the view with biographical details of artists, collectors, and patrons; explanations of cultural context; and he often threw in historical gossip to keep things lively and interesting. Fred’s approach helped shape my own way of experiencing art, and helped me realize how the purpose and function of an object changes over time. He often discussed ideas about display and staging, which, combined with my other undergraduate experiences, led me to a career as a museum curator.
— Rene Barilleaux, chief curator, McNay Art Museum
Standing in a darkened space beside large projected images, Fred Daspit’s slender frame and elegant voice graced the auditorium in Fletcher Hall, personalizing and integrating magnificent objects and structures into a context everyone could understand. He brought art to life by not only describing the beauty of the Paris Opera House, but by describing the experience of sitting in a small outdoor café on a magical evening, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the street, the pleasure of a fine glass of French wine — a history of art and place.
— Linda Dautreuil, artist and former student
I met Fred Daspit when I was 10 years old. He had decided to take students during the summer holiday for drawing classes. The first year there were about 25 of us, sprawled out under the trees in Fred’s back yard. The next year we were two. Apparently Fred had decided that having that many students was like babysitting. He could have simply stopped teaching kids in the summer, but instead chose to concentrate on students who seemed genuinely motivated to learn. I loved the classes and attribute my very insignificant ability to draw completely to Fred’s inspiration. He absolutely loved art and the creation of art and was constantly encouraging me to go further. I remember when he showed me his first book on Louisiana architecture how amazing I thought it was and how passionate Fred was about it. His greatest professional achievement, I think, was his re-creation of himself as a sculptor, but his legacy will always be teaching and the gift of wonder he gave to me and to so many others like me who were fortunate enough to be his students.
— Zachary Richard, musician, poet and activist
One day Fred decided to see if he could get a reaction out of us and determine how much attention we were paying. As his slides of classic nudes flashed upon the screen, “bump & grind” music filled the auditorium. Seeing no reaction from the students, Fred stepped in front of the screen with one of his big beautiful smiles and said, “Oh come on now! Nothing!?”
— Henri Carbajal Moore, former student
Fred’s artistic and scholarly output was completely staggering, and up close “the legend” was the kindest and sweetest person you could ever meet. He sowed seeds of joy, insight and perspective in thousands of lives, and his incredible books, his many amazing works of art, and the vast knowledge he so lovingly shared will inspire and bear fruit for so many years to come.
— Todd Mouton, Louisiana music presenter
In the classroom, Fred’s warm, rumbling voice (and occasional cackling laughter!) made the lectures seem like personal conversations, while personal visits were peppered with so many historical references they could have qualified as class time. Occasionally his tone became almost conspiratorial, as though these secrets of art and architecture were not available to just anyone. Lafayette has been enriched by his presence and influences these many years, and we are all now poorer for his loss.
— Dave Domingue, former student
Fred was uncomfortable discussing the pricing of his sculptures for his 10th annual one-man exhibition at Gallery 549. “I want them to be priced so that many people will be able to purchase them and live with them,” he would say. Always modest and humble, Fred was genuinely surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response to his work. Quietly, almost apologetically he would say, “Don, they truly are extraordinarily beautiful things! Is it possible that I really made all of these wonderful pieces?” “Yes, Fred,” I said, “you really did because no one else could have made them the way that you made them.”
— Don LeBlanc, artist and gallery owner
Fred touched the lives of thousands through his consuming passion for the simple grace, beauty, and functionality of his native state’s indigenous architectural forms. Less well known, however, is Fred’s contribution as an architectural scholar, compiling an unparalleled collection of architectural data — photos, elevations, floor plans, etc. — of Louisiana’s surviving historical structures, encapsulated into a three-volume series by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. As director of the Press, I had the privilege of working with him to translate his abstract, artistic vision of the series to the printed page. titled Louisiana Architecture, 1714-1860, the series was a critical and commercial success, and all of us who lament Fred’s passing can take a modicum of solace in the fact that he will continue to educate future generations through the printed word.
— Carl Brasseaux, author, historian and former director of the Center for Louisiana Studies