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photo by Terri Fensel 

The dean of Acadiana artists has left the rice fields.

When 76-year-old Elemore Morgan Jr. passed away in Baltimore on Sunday, May 18, after complications from heart surgery, it wasn’t just south Louisiana that felt the emotional shock waves. After The Independent Weekly reported Morgan’s death on our Web site the following morning and announced our plans for a special tribute to Morgan, we were overwhelmed with correspondence, contributions and photographs from folks as far away as Brooklyn and Panama. Every heartfelt missive was a reminder of Morgan’s immeasurable impact on everyone he met — and how his lessons and legacy will live on in the friends, colleagues and students he inspired and mentored.  

The following memories and elegies are a modest representation of the outpouring of love for Morgan. An abridged version of this tribute appears in the May 28 print edition of The Independent

 
Henry Bradsher, life-long friend
The crows were probably the only things that didn’t like Elemore, a contrast to all the people and animals who found in him a friend. When we boys walked across the railroad tracks and back along the tree line on the large farm of Elemore’s grandfather, carrying .22 rifles, the crows would scatter ahead of us. A lasting crop from that farm, where now are Baton Rouge’s Lady of the Lake hospital and blocks of medical offices, was Elemore’s appreciation of nature.

When he was young, the farm was out on a two-lane gravel road, away from any distracting urban lighting. We stopped on the road one night to marvel at a shower of meteors that lit the northeastern sky. Looking at the dome of the sky that later distinguished his paintings, Elemore was entranced. Here, where the road is now four paved lanes and the LSU agricultural experiment fields have been replaced by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, was the rural area outside Baton Rouge that he loved. Although he later transferred his appreciation of nature to the rice fields and prairies south of Lafayette, living there in a rural area again after his boyhood home had been overrun by the city, it was the outdoor life of his youth that shaped Elemore’s art.

Perhaps it was his father, Elemore Sr., whose own artistic talent was overshadowed by his photography flair, who gave Elemore the gift of freehand drawing, of sensing color patterns, of loving the great outdoors. Both his father and mother transmitted a soft-spoken ability to communicate warmly with anyone, no matter what education or color or economic status. To expand the well-known saying, Elemore never met a man he didn’t like and was curious about, was eager to talk to about a winding range of topics, was happy to help. If painting landscapes was both his professional specialty and his love, humanity as a whole was his other love. Polite inquisitiveness was his manner.

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 photo by Philp Gould

The artistic life was not easy. When he returned from studying art at Oxford on GI Bill benefits earned by Air Force service in the Korean War, Elemore struggled for a time to establish a career in art. It was his LSU friendship with architect Neil Nehrbass that took him to Lafayette to decorate buildings that Neil had designed: at the beginning, frescos at Truman elementary school and a mosaic arch at the chancery building of the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette. As he slowly developed his vividly distinctive landscape style of painting in southern Louisiana’s bright light with billowing clouds, Elemore also began teaching art at UL Lafayette. An artistically talented student became his wife; Mary nurtured his vision of painting the great outdoors.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Elemore was also an outstanding photographer. His photos of Cajun musicians went into books, while his friendships with the music makers enriched his busy life. They always welcomed him. Everyone had a warm greeting for Elemore.

Numerous projects were constantly afoot — perhaps too numerous, because it was not Elemore’s nature to refuse anyone. He was painting every minute he could find to get out into the fields with his easels and brushes. But he was also helping others with their artistic work, cooperating with setting up art exhibits not only of his own work but also of others’, managing the continuing demand for prints of his father’s classic photographic negatives of mid-century Louisiana scenes, rushing up and down the highways of Louisiana on artistic business, always finding time for old friends and to make new ones.

The friends will miss him.

Janet Nehrbass, life-long friend

To those of us attending LSU in the early 1950s, Elemore Morgan Sr. was a Baton Rouge photographer noted for his Louisiana images. His son, Elemore Morgan Jr. was known to those of us who were his friends as “Moe.” To my husband Neil, me, and our children, he remained “Moe” all his life — a dear friend and a creator of beauty who was warm and loving and shared in all of our happy times and sad times — a true kindred spirit who we miss greatly. As I look around my house, I see his fountain splashing in the courtyard and his paintings hanging on the walls. I feel his presence and know that my life will continue to be enriched by the beauty that he has created.

elemore morgan jr
 photos courtesy of Arthur and Beverly Kunberger
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Beverly and Arthur Kunberger, life-long friends
Elemore visited us in October 1954. We were stationed in Chinon, France, during the Korean War, and Elemore was finishing up his studies at Oxford. It was a fantastic experience for all of us, having a reunion with high school friends in our first experience living far from home. We managed to keep in touch after that, but not as often as we would have liked. Whenever we did get together, it was as if we had just seen each other. Elemore was always the same warm, friendly, interesting friend. He will be greatly missed.

William Moreland, artist and former head of the USL art department
I remember years ago reading an author who said that all painters could be classified as having a normal vision or an abnormal vision. By that he didn’t mean that they were pathological or well, he meant that one was an outward and one was an inward vision. What we call the outer eye and the inner eye. I always thought that at his very best, Elemore Morgan was quintessentially outer eye. The normal eye. He was concerned with the landscape. Not as a vehicle for self expression but as a thing which was quite wonderful in itself. So there wasn’t an attempt to rearrange or to change or to better, heaven knows, what was there. It was a matter of trying to understand it, trying to get it right in his paintings. I think he often succeeded. And it’s a very difficult thing to do.

He was fascinated by a landscape which is usually ignored. The drive between Lafayette and Lake Charles — you go by and you say, “Good Lord, when will I get to Lake Charles?” But in reality, there was a “there” there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, and he saw it. And I think the wonderful thing about his work is that he showed us how to see it. When he was at his best, he was always trying to show us what was there. Interesting enough, that landscape had very few worshipers, attendants in the visual art world. It was there — the sky, the rice fields — not a lot you could really romanticize or really feel a lot unless you stopped and very carefully looked at it. That’s what Elemore did.

He’ll always be missed. Those of us who were colleagues for such a long time find it almost unacceptable that he’s not there. Fittingly enough, you could almost say he and Mary had become part of the landscape there. We’ll miss him, but we have what he taught us.

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“Early Barn” by Elemore Morgan Jr., 2007, acrylic on masonite

Heidi Nehrbass Alpha, life-long friend and teacher
“Moe” was a very close friend of my family. He was kind to me my entire life. From taking me fishing as a young child to giving my pre-K 4-year-olds a private gallery talk when he had his show at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, he was always very giving.

The last time we saw Moe was at Easter. This wasn’t really the last time that we saw Moe. About a month later, we went to his opening in New Orleans. He wasn’t physically there, but he really was there. His paintings were so alive with his spirit — as they will always be.

Miriam Hirsch, former student

Sometime in early September, 1966, I found myself crying my eyes out after one of Elemore’s drawing classes. He came over to me and asked what was the matter. I told him I was very frustrated because everyone else in the class could draw, and I couldn’t. Elemore chuckled very gently and asked, didn’t I know how lucky I was? I didn’t have to unlearn all that like those other kids did. That very important lesson was not to be afraid to do new things and not to judge myself by what others did. I made As in Drawing 101 and 102 thanks to what he said to me on that afternoon. A brilliant teacher, no?

Elemore's wife, Mary, is an old classmate of mine and a very brilliant artist in her own right. My heart goes out to her and her entire family for this loss. No one will replace Elemore.

Francis Pavy, artist and former student

I first met Elemore when my sister and I took art classes at Girard Park in the early ’60s. I remember clearly Elemore teaching us how to make different colors from red, blue, yellow and white tempera paint. I remember the smell of the paint and the egg cartons we used to mix the paint in. For years I would look at things and ask myself, “What would I mix together to make that color?” I really wanted to learn how to draw Disney characters, and I remember him telling me drawing was a gradual refinement of an initial rough drawing. I was too young and clumsy to appreciate this advice, although I remembered it throughout the rest of my childhood and adolescence. But mixing color is what really stuck in my head.

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 "Portrait of Elemore" by Francis Pavy

Years later when I became an art major, my first drawing class was with Elemore. I showed up for class the first day, and he remembered me. He told me he had some of my paintings from when I was a child. He gave us a list of materials for class which was an education in itself. When we arrived for the next class he had arranged a grouping of objects for all the students to draw and see where we were artistically. I chose a pair of shoes. After about 30 minutes he had us stop and turn our drawings around to show the class. He made a few comments and chose my drawing as an example to the class. What a boost of self confidence it gave me. I still have that drawing. I can’t say I was the best student — as I probably didn’t spend more than five hours on the 20-hour drawing we were required to do to finish the class. But I did get an “A” and learned so much about line, how to refine a drawing, about various methods of observation and the dance between the observed, the observer and the drawing. Most important I learned to invent my own methods of observation and to appreciate my own unique artistic expression.

After I graduated and moved on to become a professional artist, I would occasionally see Elemore around town or at art events or openings. And gradually our orbits would cross more and more frequently. We were part of the group of people that started the Artists Alliance. I remember how long it took us to just come up with that name! In these long discussions Elemore’s voice was the voice of reason, something we needed. Eventually we both started showing our work at the same gallery and once had a show together with Debbie Fleming Caffery. In these last years we both were in a few organizations that gave me the opportunity to know Elemore better and appreciate his sage counsel.

So my first encounter with Elemore was one of a mentor showing a child the mechanics of color and planting seeds that would bear fruit later. He taught me, as a young artist, how to observe and how to gradually fine tune those skills and look inside for inspiration. Later, as peers and colleagues, we shared notes on art, being a father and community involvement. But I will be forever his student and remember his last lessons were about how he carried himself and treated others with dignity and grace and always taught with a smile on his face and gentle words.

David Alpha, artist and former student
I met Elemore Morgan in 1969 when I studied drawing at USL as a fine art major. He brought us the Ruskin School’s classical curriculum. As well as the knowledge and the tools and techniques of drawing, Elemore taught us the ideal dedication to your work is to be resilient to both obscurity and being known and celebrated. Elemore lived immersed in his subject: prairie, sky, rice, and the intense color of the south Louisiana landscape. He painted a plein air technique on Masonite in large scale with acrylic paint and speed. Given the size he was drawn to, Elemore was as much a swordfighter as involved in dance — back and forth across the surface of his shapes.

In south Louisiana, the land meets the sea in a primordial soup loaded with life. The ever changing moisture in the atmosphere and volatility of form, changed by weather, have prismatic effect and a nuance of brilliant color. Elemore spent decades immersed in this experience. I knew him for four. The underpinning of Elemore Morgan Jr.’s work was the love of observation realized through a classical draftsmanship, an expressive celebration of the visual poetics of the real. He lives on in his work, and yet will be dearly missed.

Barry Jean Ancelet, folklorist and colleague
Most people who worked with Elemore would say that he taught them to see. He did that for me, too, as I watched where he pointed his cameras and how he edited slides as we documented Cajun and Creole musicians from 1974 through 1984 for our book, The Makers of Cajun and Creole Music. But I would also say that he taught me lots of other things. For example, how to listen, as we collected and edited our interviews. He had a natural gift for getting people to tell him their stories. Stopping for gas or a coke with Elemore was never a brief experience. He also had a gift for recognizing the deep meanings embedded in those stories.

He had a child-like fascination and a genuine appreciation for people, as well as places. This was an important aspect of his art. It was obvious in his photographs that there was a warm affective relationship flowing both ways through his lens. I remember feeling at the time that I should have been paying him tuition and even getting credit for art, history, philosophy, political science, sociology and anthropology. Elemore was one of the most natural and effective teachers I have ever met, in part because he never stopped learning himself, and because he was willing to think out loud, exposing the process beyond the facts.

Over the years that I knew him, he articulated several philosophical notions that have proved not only useful but incontrovertable to me. One had to do with the importance of “cross-co-lateral recommunication.” He refused to assume anything, preferring instead to cross-check and re-check everything many times over. A true believer in Murphy’s Laws, his favorite was, “Murphy was an optimist.” His meticulous, even obsessive attention to detail produced and preserved his paintings, his photographs, his teaching, and his relationships. Another notion was that “life is brief.” I was in my late twenties when we started working together, and he soon shocked me into a frenzy of activity one day when he said, “You know, after thirty, one is no longer measured on potential alone.” He followed his own advice, remaining prolific throughout his own brief life. He was also ever the kind, generous, and elegant gentleman and friend to so many of us. I can only guess how his enduring sense of wonder is being driven to new heights now, and smile as I lift my proverbial glass in celebration of a beautiful life well-lived.

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 photo by Philip Gould

Philip Gould, photographer
Elemore Morgan Jr. was teaching art at USL when I first met him in late 1976. I was looking into returning to Louisiana from Dallas to do a documentary photo project on Cajun culture. By far, Elemore was the most positive, welcoming, and interested person I met on the trip. Others were supportive about my efforts, but Elemore had a feel for my idea and strongly encouraged me, a total stranger. We quickly became good friends.

A telling Elemore moment for me came several years later. In 1979 I was checking my post office box in downtown Lafayette for mail and checks (the freelancer’s daily voyage of hope). I didn’t see Elemore behind me at a counter, but he called to me. “Hey Philip. I’m late, can’t talk now. How ya doin?” He was feverishly licking stamps for a stack of letters to mail and was running late. (Elemore usually packed his daily activities at 120 or 180 percent of normal human capacity.) Seeing his harried state, I mischievously said, “Elemore, there is something I have been meaning to ask you for a good while.”

“What’s that, Phil?” all the while feverishly licking and applying stamps.

“Elemore, what is the meaning of life?” I asked in half jest.

Without skipping a beat or a stamp, he uttered, “I am not sure, but I know it’s 80 percent maintenance.”

Over the years, Elemore always impressed me as a man of the old school who was young at heart. He was a world-class conversationalist who listened with the best of them. He was famous for asking a single question “Y’all been busy?” That inquiry started many extended conversations, often with total strangers. As he listened, he would hold his hand to his chin, look directly at the person with an empathetic eye, and let them talk.

One evening long ago, I remember him talking with a shrimper at the festival in Delcambre. Elemore listened with full interest responding, “Oh, so that’s how you do it.” Before the visit was over, the shrimper had showed Elemore his entire boat, how everything worked, and the shrimp catch below. Elemore came away knowing much more about shrimping. I came away thinking, “So, that’s how you do it.”

By total serendipity, I got to visit him out in his beloved rice fields just before he left Louisiana for heart surgery. He was finishing a painting for his upcoming show in New Orleans. With a rickety old French easel supporting his painting, Elemore applied the finishing brushstrokes of vivid color. Before him the last light of day was illuminating a flooded rice field. Several oaks were scattered in the distance. As the golden light faded, I watched him load everything into his dusty van and drive along gravel roads at dusk back home.

That night, we had dinner with his wife Mary. We discussed everything under the sun. Elemore loved politics and had many unique perspectives on the world’s problems. He often fantasized out loud a symposium on Southern politics featuring Bill Clinton and Edwin Edwards. “Let those two get going with no holds barred,” he loved to say, “and you would hear some wild truths.”

Throughout his life Elemore remained empathetic, good natured, generous, supportive and always focused. He was totally at one with his world and seemed to enjoy every minute of his life. Elemore will be with us all for our lives to come. I feel honored, wiser and richer to have known him.

Hector LaSala, UL Lafayette professor of architecture
There are persons whose impact on our lives and communities are so deep and lasting, it is impossible to imagine what our lives would be like without their brief or sustained contact. Elemore is one of those lamentably few human beings whose soft and generous, intense yet gracious, wise and caring presence changed thousands of lives; to say nothing of his artwork, which of course insistently awakens us from our habitual ways of seeing — and thus missing — the beauty of the landscape right under our nose.

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 photo by Terri Fensel

One personal memory I want to share with you is of Elemore as a drawing teacher. In 1973, I was already in my senior year and was feeling deprived since I did not have him for a drawing class in my freshman year. So I decided to take him on my last semester, despite having more than enough credits to graduate. I already considered myself a good drawer, so I saw this experience as a supplement. Oh, how wrong I was, which he soon made known.

He pointed out that what I had were “drawing tricks,” which produced good looking drawings, but these were not the result of an honest attempt to see and understand through drawing.

Yikes! He was so right and while he taught me to draw better, he also modeled for me — unbeknown at the time how much I was going to need it later — a way of teaching that was always tailor-made for each student, painfully honest but always most nurturing and patient.

There are no skies like those of Elemore’s paintings.

Thus it pleases me greatly to know that he now lives — as one — in that multi-colored air.

Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes
Elemore Morgan helped me appreciate Baton Rouge where I worked as state folklorist in the 1970s-80s. It was fashionable to bash the state capital, in comparison to Lafayette and New Orleans. Elemore, with that ready laugh and gleeful look, agreed with me that the cultural Caribbean ended a few blocks north of my Creole cottage in Spanishtown — an eclectic neighborhood near the river of white and black Southerners, Cajuns, Sicilians, and Vietnamese along with young hipsters and old bohemians. We had created our own Mardi Gras, but sometimes too smugly saw ourselves as an oasis. Yet Elemore reminded me of the rurality that surrounded Baton Rouge — more a big country town than a city. He’d been raised on a farm off Jefferson Highway. His father, Elemore Morgan Sr., the photographer, documented farmers, loggers and oilfield workers. These were kindred folks to the new Baton Rougeans who drove tractors, brought the pulpwood to the paper mill, or worked in the glowing refineries on the north side of town.  

Elemore Jr. had become a painter and photographer at a LSU still in thrall to the Depression-era Federal Arts Project. To Elemore everyone had a role to play from roughneck to professor, politician to preacher, fisherman to housewife. His cornucopia view of humanity was infectious. He told me to reach out to state government workers who’d left their cultures behind in the “progressive” drive to be middle class. He appreciated the bluesmen and gospel singers. He was equally supportive of the white gentry who on Sunday peopled the large Baptist and Methodist churches that dominated the otherwise empty streets of downtown.

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 “Vertical View” by Elemore Morgan Jr., 2008, acrylic on masonite

As one who’d grown up around the intimacies of agricultural work, Elemore was concerned that the oil industries (not the oilfield workers) were hurting the city’s livability in losing social cohesion, and pollution of air and water. Again we shared a mordant joke, Baton Rouge should be called “Petrolgrad” — some sort of drab government provincial capital of oil production. Then in 1980 it all became too real as I lay for months in Baton Rouge Hospital with terminal cancer. The hospice was filled with people who worked at the plants. Even as plaques of corporate-giving from Ethyl and Esso lined the walls, we were all on a death row made in part by industry. Elemore’s visits helped me navigate that surreal and painful passage. He was there with concern, a laugh at life, and a fruit jar of daffodils. I could barely speak, but he supported my whispers that hoodoo men, traiteurs, and faith-healers among the orderlies and late-shift workers were helping me visualize, think and believe my way back to health by night — as I endured the long days of chemotherapy science.

We shared a love of photography, and so Elemore printed a favorite image from Baton Rouge. It was a black preacher down by the old ferry slip in 1957, robed and crowned in white cloth, looking like a Sufi shaman — a hand-made crucifix was his staff. Elemore gently waited until the news that my tumor had suddenly shriveled to say: “I thought the preacher looked like a ferryman on the River Styx (crossed to reach the underworld in Greek mythology, its waters could bring immortality). I knew you were at the shore waiting and wondering, now you’ve beaten the disease of the century. In your new life I imagine you’ll document just this kind of person today.” Here was Elemore ready to celebrate my living and/or ease my passing. The Mississippi River and its elder denizens were to him part of the archaic human story of mystery and struggle, survival and passage. It was a teaching moment that I carry with me, still looking at his photograph of the sacred ferryman each morning. In intervening years Elemore continued to expand as an artist and spirit. His rice fields, cows, and barns were hailed as a kind of Louisiana French Impressionism. But they are much more than impressions of the beloved Cajun corner of the universe; they are bold worlds of color that honor nature’s vastness while also admiring the invisible agricultural hand at work. They are personal statements, rather than straight documentary, and so even his later painting of Baton Rouge’s skyline seen across that murky would-be River Styx is beautiful despite the city’s troubles. Likewise, Elemore’s rusty New Orleans bridges and splintered wharves are painted evidence of working with the water that is both its life support and threat. His continued creativity and courage are found in recent joyful plein air paintings of performers in motion — from Fats Domino to the Lost Bayou Ramblers.

Elemore was a great appreciator of all kinds of people known and unknown. He was an unabashedly old-school patriotic American and inclusive world citizen. When he wrote I was “one of his main people” for making American Routes, I felt healed all over again. We’ve all been frustrated in not being able to help him start a “new life.” But in leaving, as in life, Elemore brings us together. We are his vision shared.

Michael Doucet, musician and collaborator
Sharon Doucet, author

We last saw Elemore at the Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg concert, when he told us about his upcoming surgery. He was even positive about having open-heart surgery, looking forward to having time to watch C-Span. That night he also had a conversation with our son Matthew, who told him he’d always been amazed at the depth Elemore had managed to get into the horizon line of the treasured painting he did for us. Elemore said that the horizon was just a line, but it was the most important part of what he did.

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 photo by Terri Fensel

The Shambhala Buddhist teachings explore the joining of heaven and earth, the energetic place where the larger view meets the gravity of practicality. Elemore spent his life on this horizon, in this electric socket, penetrating through the surface to the depth of the present. He did it with his gentle smile, with his inimitable view, and with his ability to translate the most ordinary scenery into sacred art. His life was his art and vice versa. He didn’t just look; he took the time to stop and see. This way of seeing, if we can let it, may be his most important legacy to us.

No one was more delighted by and supportive of what he called “The Tribe,” the area community of creative artists. His paintings graced four BeauSoleil album/CD covers, from the very first one to the most recent.

We still have Elemore’s hand-drawn map from the early 1970s showing the precise twists and turns on unnamed gravel roads to locate his hidden Acadian home in LeRoy, La. The house was drawn to scale with a heart in the middle of it. That’s Elemore in a nutshell, drawn to scale with a big heart.

Great Buddhist masters are said to dissolve into a visible rainbow when they die. We like to think of Elemore dissolving into light made of the vivid colors of the Louisiana landscapes he so loved.

Rocky Perkins, artist

Although Elemore had helped me tremendously when I first started painting, I moved away from Acadiana and didn’t get the chance to see him as often.  Ironically, on May 18 — last Sunday, the day he died — I was working in my studio, and I suddenly decided that I wanted Elemore’s address. He’d expressed interest in Molas and Kuna Indian Art that is found here in Panama. I knew I had a letter of his somewhere in my desk and found it and read through it. It contained his thoughts that he expressed to me the day after his mother, Dorothy, passed away in Baton Rouge. I read it, slowly, noting the wisdom of his words and I thought, “I need to go and see him when I go back in July.”

Too late.

The letter’s right here. Here are a few sentences from it.

“I suppose we can feel guilty for missing opportunities to visit friends and especially old people who are often lonely. Somehow, the loss ... seems to leave a hole in one’s life that never quite gets filled again.”

I could have seen him the last time I was in Lafayette but thought to myself, “I don’t have time.” Maybe these words will remind me — indeed, all of us — how short life is and to enjoy the irreplaceable people in our lives while we still can.

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 art by Randall LaBry

Randall LaBry, artist
I was never officially enrolled in any of Elemore Morgan’s classes, but he became my most valuable teacher, just because of his interest in and encouragement to the students around him, whether assigned to him or not. From him I learned that the seemingly ordinary world that surrounds us can be the stuff of art — even the rice fields around my hometown. The attention he gave his subjects transformed them, revealing a beauty and character that we had ignored. Somehow the generosity in his enjoyment of people and places is contained and expressed in the colors and marks he put down. In person he had a courtesy and interest in you that transformed you in the same way.

Mary Tutwiler, writer
I don’t remember when I first met Elemore. When I came home to Louisiana in 1980, the Cajun revival had already begun, and it seemed like everyone I encountered — every painter, musician, writer, teacher, doctor, cook and gardener had a story about this man who had touched their lives. I don’t even remember the first time I interviewed Elemore, or watched him paint out on the prairie, or sat and drank twig tea and had one of those long rambling conversations that touched on every topic under the sun.

When my phone’s caller ID identified Elemore’s incoming call, I knew I was in for a 45-minute conversation. But I learned quickly that whatever he was thinking about, and it was usually months in advance of something actually happening, was something I wanted to know and write about. I do remember the day he called me and told me to come out to his new studio; there were wood storks in the woods, and knowing that I loved birds, he wanted me to see them.

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 "Winter Field," 2007 by Elemore Morgan Jr., acrylic on masonite

In his gentle way, he was passionate about everything — the release of Louisiana Story on DVD, where to get the best plate lunches (which he didn’t eat on his macrobiotic diet) in Meaux, the demolition of old barns, the details of hurricane recovery plans, how my children were doing. He was a constant source of information; it was acknowledged around the office that if you didn’t know the answer about something in the arts, call Elemore. Each time he walked in the door it was as if one’s best beloved had arrived. I watched nearly every person in the office rise from their chairs and walk out into his embrace.

Elemore, I hear your voice in my head, and you’re making me laugh. Every corner I turn, I expect to see your white head in the crowd, deep in conversation. I look at your paintings and the world I walk in is newborn, as tender as a pale green rice shoot.

Todd Mouton, director of Louisiana Crossroads and Louisiana Folk Roots
If a big tree falls in the forest, everyone hears it. Or hears about it. Stories are told, lessons are attached, and this tale, legend, sometimes even myth, becomes part of the folklife of a place.

Elemore lived life off the beaten path. He was soft-spoken, but if an alien landed and said, “Take me to your leader,” a lot of us would’ve sent that visitor to Elemore. They might’ve spent a lot of enthusiastic time talking, but I don’t think a war would’ve resulted. I can only imagine the projects they’d have dreamed up.

He was the first person I heard talk about “the tribe” of artists and culture lovers here, the first person I heard refer to Grant Street Dancehall as “the temple.” He painted and sketched musical performances from the Sliman Theater to Jazz Fest for “practice.” He had lifetimes of amazing projects ahead of him, with many lifetimes of incredible projects behind him and still generating new life. He spent his years traveling the backroads, blazing trails to the headwaters of our cultures, revealing the heart and soul of this home we love.

20080528-cover-29.jpg I spent hours looking at his fantastic painting of a live oak tree that now graces the cover of BeauSoleil’s Live in Louisiana album. I wasn’t gazing at the original in considered reflection, though, I was busy packing boxes full of its reproduction on CDs, tubes full of promotional posters, printing press releases and getting the jpeg up on Web sites. While leaving home one morning, I looked at an oak tree near the end of our driveway and somehow prismatically saw new beauty. I told Elemore that he knew I loved live oaks and his painting, but now I knew I’d never see either the same way again. I saw the truth behind his brushstrokes, the rivers of color that moved inside the tree’s trunk and limbs. “Well, now, that’s the point, isn’t it?” he said in quiet wonderment.

“That’s the thing, isn’t it?” was another expression we’d hear when a conversation opened to a particular insight or revelation, which seemed to happen a lot when talking with Elemore.

More than 10 years ago, in a feature story lead, I wondered: If Elemore’s paintings could speak, what might they say or sound like? If they spoke anything like their creator, they might spin graceful upward spirals of illuminating light not unlike those found in the cumulonimbus clouds he captured and the reverberant colors he mixed and pulled across his prairiescapes.

He is part of so much. Our environment. Our history. Our two beautiful art centers. He is in the eyes, ears, hearts and souls of countless artists and art lovers, and many more to come. All owe something to the man in the green truck, out by the rice fields, doing what he was drawn to do.

God bless you and thank you, Elemore.

Lucius Fontenot, artist and former student

I will miss Elemore. He was always so generous with his time. When he taught me at UL, he always took whatever time was needed to talk about my progress. And when I would see him around Acadiana, he would always take time to talk and catch up with me. In my silly, selfish mind I want to believe that he only did that for me. But I know that is not true — he did that for everyone. He was a generous artist, teacher and person. I will always remember him as the unbelievably energetic man that was everywhere at once, talking to everyone. God bless you Elemore.

Aletha St. Romain, artist and former student
Mr. Morgan (I never could get accustomed to “Elemore”) was my drawing teacher at USL when I was a sophomore. Most of my art teachers up to that time were hippies, pub crawlers, and all manner of eccentrics, but not Mr. Morgan. In class he dressed formally — white shirt, dress pants, a tie, and oxford shoes. He was gentle and smart and exacting, and we all realized, but perhaps, in the way of most 19-year-olds, did not fully appreciate the great talent and spirit before us. Above all other influences, I most remember his artist’s eye. He taught us how to see.

I am a freelance illustrator in Austin now and also teach illustration. Although teaching has its high points, it is often a thankless job, requiring huge amounts of preparation with little appreciation in return from the students for all one’s hard work from the heart. This of course has led me to think back on what kind of ingrate I must have been in college, and after a bit of soul searching decided to someday go back to USL and search out Mr. Morgan, to tell him, belatedly, how very much he had influenced my thinking as an artist and a professional, and most of all to thank him for being my teacher.

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  Aletha St. Romain and "Mr. Morgan"

Then came “the Storm.” Between the two levee breaks of the London Avenue Canal in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, my family home was lost under 10 feet of water. Tragedy opens one’s eyes to so many things, one of which is the painful reality of the brevity of the things in this world. That “someday” would not be delayed. I prepared to make the dreaded trip back home to witness the damage and try to salvage what I could from my parent’s house, and on the way there I decided to try to lighten up the trip and call on Mr. Morgan. My friend Megan Barra arranged it, and in October of 2005 we went to visit him, to sit on his porch, have lunch, and to catch up.

I showed him my work. I told him how much being in his class had meant to me, how he had passed on to my 19-year-old mind the importance of really looking at the world, to see the beauty that lies before us all. I wanted him to know that, if he had only influenced one person in his class, than he had influenced me, and that the things he taught had meant a great deal to me. He told me that yes, teaching could very often be unsatisfying. So many students are uncaring and unresponsive to the knowledge that you so lovingly present to them. But, he said, that the thing that was gratifying to him over the years were the many former students who had gone on to their careers and had formed lifelong friendships with him, often influencing him as well. This, he said, was the payoff.

Megan, Mr. Morgan, his herd of dogs, a cat and I all sat on his big porch in the warm breeze, and he looked at my work. He turned the pages of my portfolio and came to a painting that seemed to particularly appeal to him. He paused and stared a moment, looked directly at me and slowly shook his head and said one word: “Damn!” I turned to Megan and said, “Wow, I just made Mr. Morgan say “Damn!” I’m still trying to figure out how to put that one on my c.v.

I write this now as a last thank you to Mr. Morgan. I am more skilled with pictures than with words, but I’m giving this my best shot. Last night I saw an old friend. I asked him if he’d had Mr. Morgan as a teacher at USL and he said, “Yeah, you know, I did have him. You know what? He was the real deal.” Yes, Mr. Morgan was the Real Deal, and I am grateful one last time for the opportunity I had to tell him so.

Bryan Lafaye, artist
Elemore and I were on I-10 east right outside of Atlanta — middle of the night. I was driving the old U-Haul rented from one of Elemore’s friends in Kaplan, the truck loaded with his paintings, and we were to arrive in Augusta the next morning to unload for his upcoming exhibit at the art center there. We were talking about the usual stuff — politics, state of the nation, art being our affliction — when the blue lights of the Georgia State Patrol brought us back. I climbed out, stood on the shoulder of the interstate while the man in blue eyed me. That is until Elemore climbed out of the truck, wearing his field attire — khaki pants, blue shirt, Red Wing boots. The cop seemed to ease a bit and started to explain why he had pulled us over, mistakenly I might add, and then proceeded to wave us two Louisiana artists on to Augusta. Elemore and I agreed, those lights are blinding.

He had a way of setting one at ease, immediately, and I’ve never forgotten that. I call it Elemore’s “magic dust,” and he spread it wherever he went. He was an optimist and a real artist. He laid down paint in a way, layer after layer, that deciphered piece by piece the landscape he loved. He spoke of the USA as resilient, and was truly proud when he received his Korean War service medal, which arrived some 40 years later than it should have.

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photo by Terri Fensel 

He always asked about my two children, and wanted to know details of the father-son and father-daughter trips I would take them on, always saying, “You’re doing good work there, man.” Elemore was cool, and he could be fiery, but he was always a gentleman. He was humble, and he dearly loved his family and friends.

We had begun the process about a year ago seeking permission to access and work in the pre-historic caves located in France, with all of that beautiful timeless art still on the walls there. We both felt the need to make work in those caves, that we as contemporary artists shared a lineage and responsibility with those early painters. He had been once before, to Lascaux, back around 1956, and was looking forward to returning. The caves will be lonely without him.

One day, years ago, I pulled up in his driveway in Maurice and Elemore was out in the yard looking down at something, excitement in his eyes. As I got closer, I realized it was a great blue heron. He looked up at me and said, “It just fell out of the sky, just now. What do you think I should do with it?” We discussed options, which included boiling some rice, but he said, “I’d really like to paint it.” And he did, for about eight weeks. The bird lay there on a platform on his studio floor, and it never showed signs of aging while Elemore studied and painted that bird. He managed some fine watercolor paintings of that heron, and we continued to be amazed at its remaining intact. It must have been that magic dust.

Elemore Morgan Jr. was a man true to his word. He was continually curious about his surroundings, and genuinely interested in the people who crossed paths with him. He loved being a Southerner, a native Louisianian, and still pondered what it meant to be that fortunate in this lifetime. He was rarely on time due to so many things going on with him simultaneously, and he had a knack for instilling a comforting peace wherever he went. He introduced me to Japanese twig tea.

I painted on his painting, and he painted on mine. Elemore was a hell of a painter, and one hell of a friend. And like all of the others who had an opportunity to share in his time and space, I will miss him.

Darrell Bourque, poet
In the weeks that Elemore was suffering in Baltimore, I took my own solace in reading a sonnet I had written for him several years ago. I read it to myself often as a kind of prayer, and I read it at all the venues where I was called upon to read as the Louisiana Poet Laureate since he left his beloved prairie. It was for me a way of making his presence known and felt while he could not be here.

“Where Land Meets Sky”
for Elemore Morgan Jr.
By Darrell Bourque


He loves this place he’s fallen into:
his skies of smeared lilac, his clouds spun
by muscled ether, congealed air so newly blue
it’s hard to tell it from the sky we knew once
and loved so. After shot-silk skies, what else?
All the earth and all that’s creatured in it. Tongues
of irises from the swamps, big lazy trees, bells
on boats in creeping rivers and cows like peace
flags grazing in the prairies, or lying in wells
of cow dreams making milk. He loves the creases
and the blur; stalks filled with rice to falling,
water rushing from pipes, and a leaf in wind. Leases
on anything that takes us to the places these converge,
a line in all we see and know, oh holy curve and surge.

(from the 2005 collection of poems The Blue Boat. Bourque is the Louisiana Poet Laureate.)

Elemore was one of those artists who loved other artists and who was unbelievably generous to them. To see him sitting and sketching or painting a group of musicians in Girard Park at Festivals Acadiens year in and year out seemed as natural as the musicians playing on the stage. To see him at the Heymann Performing Arts Center painting a group of PASA dancers or a solo performer was to see him show how much he valued all artful expression.

He loved talking about literature, about how much he valued his little volume of Thomas Hardy stories or Flannery O’Connor’s The Habit of Being. He loved carrying these tattered and worn copies around with him so that he could open them whenever there was a minute that provided itself in his otherwise unbelievably busy life.

He clearly documented his love of the prairie in his paintings and drawings and gouaches and watercolors, but that love for object and beauty around him was as easily activated and triggered into paintings and drawings of any place he traveled: the English countryside, the city of Oxford and its famed university, scenes of war suffering and war casualty, his rice fields in Japan, his cityscapes of Baton Rouge and New Orleans and Manhattan, the beach at Pensacola.

He could be as loving a renderer of his cats as of cows or fields or irrigation canals. He loved the sky and the earth and how they danced with each other. He loved his friends and his family and his country, and it was always a thrill to receive a note from him with one of his cats featured in a gray wash, or a map of the USA as he traveled across the country. He possessed a keen eye and a big heart, and he never tired of showing the world how both those things can work in the world.

Melissa Bonin, artist and former student
Elemore, what does one do when the guardian of the space between Earth and Sky is gone? There was a sense of security in knowing that you were out there in the fields doing the work for all of us. Who will watch over the rice fields and bridges? For a long while, I will scan the galleries, museums and dance halls for your white locks, gentle smile, bright eyes, elegant manner and graceful spirit.

Then I will pick up my brushes and do what you taught me.

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 "Goodbye Elemore" by Willie Baronet

Willie Baronet, artist and former student
Dear Elemore,

I just found out that you are gone, and the wind was sucked out of me. It has been 27 years since I was in your class, and it is still so clear to me that you changed my relationship to drawing, and more importantly to myself.

I didn’t grow up in a family that knew how to appreciate artistic talent, much less encourage it. You did. And with me you did it with grace, gentleness, authenticity and care. It seems you were that way with everything you did in your life. You modeled for me the way I want to live my life, with courage and curiosity and enthusiasm. At 76 you were younger and more full of life than most people I know half that age.

I’m so grateful that you and I had a chance to talk a couple of months ago when I asked you to write a letter of recommendation for me as I prepare to go to grad school. It had been years since we’d talked, and yet we picked right up and had a riveting conversation about art, teaching, and the nature of drawing. I talked about that discussion with many of my friends. And now, the letter you wrote for me is a cherished possession. Tears are coming down as I write this. You saw me and honored me and blessed me, at a time when I needed it. And thanks to you and your loving ways, I draw more now than ever. I will always be in your debt, and I’m dedicating my graduate school experience to you, so that when I’m short on inspiration I’ll know where to turn.

Rest in peace my friend. I’ll look for you in the clouds and the wind and blue, blue sky, and know you are still at work.

Eddie Cazayoux, architect and colleague

Elemore was a teacher, a colleague, a client, and a great friend. I had the pleasure of working with Elemore on his studio and home design over a period of 20-something years — it was hard for Elemore to make a decision without a lot of collaboration with many of his friends. Elemore was a very sensitive individual and was interested in everyone. He never blew anyone off — he was always attentive and truly interested in what people had to say, whether he agreed with them or not.

He was enamored with the condition of the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on south Louisiana. He probably has one of the best collections of articles and photographs on the events. He was very active in working with architects, whom he thought were one of the best groups to address the problems of the aftermath of the hurricanes.

Elemore has left us a treasure of his talented way of seeing. And lucky for us, he was in love with south Louisiana, especially the prairie. I love the palette of colors he used in his landscapes. He loved nature, and enjoyed being out in it, and capturing its beauty. My heart goes out to his wife, Mary, his daughters, grandchildren, and all the many people who will miss him. He was truly a inspiration in many people’s lives including my own.

James Schexnaydre, artist and former student
Elemore Morgan Jr. was my first drawing professor in 1982. I heard rumors from other “poser” art students to avoid him because he made you work hard. I had to have him.

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Morgan at work at Festival Acadiens in 2007. Photo by Sue Billet

Elemore immediately struck me with his kind gentle nature that delivered a drawing philosophy that was firm and straightforward. What I got from him was that drawing was the result of cutting out the superficial and seeing the subject fresh and honest as if for the first time. Developing it really was a result of “doing it,” while being true to the fundamentals.

He didn’t let us use erasers. He wanted us to learn to make every line count. Drawing was a commitment to concentration. He didn’t let us use pencil sharpeners. We learned to “sculpt” our pencil points with our X-Acto blades in a seamless ritual of customizing the graphite in an organic union with our drawing. That’s what it meant to me.

Elemore drew notes on big torn sheets of newsprint that were push-pinned organically in layers. Even that seemed like he was creating the layering of a painting. When he spoke about the mechanics of drawing, he always seemed to have a partial smile which was trying to leak out of him. He was very warm and approachable yet dignified.

The greatest gift I received from Elemore was how he opened my eyes to the tremendous value of being a Louisiana artist. Entering college as a young naive 18-year-old, I remember thinking that to be a “real artist,” one must be from or compete with the art world of New York City or some other major metropolitan. Through the years of college and after, the influence of Elemore helped me see the value of my Louisiana background. The deep history and unique colorful culture is as fertile a ground for artists as it is for kudzu.

I miss him greatly and will always be inspired by his example.

Patrick Mould, chef
Elemore had become a fixture at Festivals Acadiens. In the early years it was he and his camera, but in the later years he would set up shop on the side of the stages and just draw non-stop. It became part of the festivities. People would stop and watch him capturing the action on the stage in a drawing. He was a huge fan of the music and would sit there for hours immersed in the moments.

Last year the festival featured one of Elemore’s paintings on the official festival poster. Thankfully this happened while he was still alive and we were able to express to him how much we appreciated his contributions to the culture of Louisiana.

The arts community in Lafayette is tightly knit. When there is an art opening, musical performance or a special event surrounding art, you find a lot of the usual suspects showing up — people who are interested in supporting what happens artistically in Lafayette — artists, photographers, musicians, chefs, you see a lot of the same faces.

Elemore called this core of artistic humanity “The Tribe.” When Elemore would say, “The tribe has gathered,” I always thought, “What a cool way to refer to everyone.”

We are a tribe, and Elemore was our Big Chief.

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Morgan with his dogs. Photo by Aletha St. Romain 

R. Reese Fuller, writer
In 2003, Elemore and Mary came to our housewarming party. He talked to everyone there, but he was particularly pleased to sit in our back yard and pet our dogs. He said more than once, to both me and my wife, “I had no idea y’all were dog people.” It was as if he had stumbled upon an answer to one of the endless riddles of the universe. But I know that his pleasure came from finding yet another piece of evidence that we were connected to one another — in something as simple as unconditional love for mutts — and that the connection wasn’t just between us, but with all humanity.

Elemore exuded an energy for life that was hard to shake. It didn’t matter if I talked to him on the phone, interviewed him in person, rode in his van with him, had lunch with him, saw him at an art opening, or found him sketching at a musical event. Every time I encountered him, I left with the feeling that I was a better person than I had ever imagined and that the world was filled with limitless possibilities. I would have the profound conviction, that I was here in this life, in this time, for a reason, whether or not it was clear to me at that very moment.

I wish I would have told him all of this.

I wish I could tell him how he changed my life.

I wish I would have simply thanked him for being who he was.

I wish I could tell him how that just knowing him has made me a better writer, a better husband, a better father, a better human.

But all I can do now is try to live this life by what he taught and how he lived.

Herman Mhire, artist and colleague
“I found doing these paintings a tremendously exhilarating experience. It brought me outside into direct contact with nature; and, in trying to see more clearly, I felt more deeply what I had always found absorbing — the strange, haunting blend of forces that seem to give this landscape its special quality.”

“. . . Art is not a business; it is an obsession that one will either resist or cooperate with and all the press agentry, the getting and begetting, the hustling, the openings, the interviews and media blitzes will only touch incidentally the real life of the artist. His life is made real through his work, and all things being equal, if no subsistence tokens were required he would continue to produce his works...” Elemore Morgan Jr. wrote these words in the catalog accompanying his 1982 retrospective exhibition at the Lafayette Natural History Museum.

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 portrait of Morgan by Herman Mhire

Artist, painter, photographer, teacher, mentor, husband, father, world traveler, champion of local culture, friend — Elemore Morgan Jr. was obsessive, courageous, wise, honest, ethical, sincere, sympathetic, generous, hard-working, community-oriented, and curious about the world.

In his paintings, drawings and photographs, he expressed his love for Louisiana — its prairies, rice fields, rivers, bridges, canals, live oak trees, irises, and its people — a love he inherited from his father, celebrated Louisiana photographer Elemore Morgan Sr.

All who have loved and admired Elemore for many years cannot easily accept his early departure from this world. But Elemore’s spirit endures in the Louisiana landscape.

Who can gaze upon the southwest Louisiana prairie without thinking of Elemore? Who can cross the magnificent Mississippi River bridges at Luling, Baton Rouge or New Orleans without thinking of Elemore? Who can look upon brilliant green fields of rice, skies filled with cumulus clouds, and distant horizons defined by masses of verdant green oaks without thinking of Elemore?

Through his magnificent work, Elemore Morgan Jr. taught us how to see; how to appreciate the infinite beauty of the natural world around us. And in the process, he became one with it.

Lloyd Doré III, collaborator
I felt a great loss when I learned of Elemore’s passing on Sunday. People will long remember Elemore Morgan Jr. He was a genuine treasure of Louisiana, a man who had multiple interests, multiple talents, and was a fountain of historical knowledge. It was a great privilege in my life to have known and worked with Elemore.

We shared several interests, including the appreciation and desire to promote Robert Flaherty’s 1948 film Louisiana Story. In 2005 Elemore was instrumental in having a photographic exhibit brought to Abbeville. In 2006 he was featured in an LSU student film Revisiting Flaherty’s Louisiana Story. In the past year we were working toward getting commemorative plaques placed in Abbeville, related to Louisiana Story. I regret that he will not be here to see a plaque placed on the Frank’s Theatre, commemorating the 2/20/1949 southern premiere in Abbeville of Flaherty’s last directed film.

Elemore Morgan Jr. has left us with a lasting legacy in his paintings, but more in the people he touched and who he has inspired to continue nourishing the culture that is Louisiana.

Camille Banuchi, artist and former student
I looked up to Elemore more than anyone else: as an artist, a mentor, father figure and friend. I was his last student. He came back after retirement to serve on my thesis committee. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I needed him, and he gladly obliged. He was the best teacher most of us have had. It was a honor to learn from him. We will never forget.

We became close this year as he guided me through my first teaching experiences. After all, it was he who inspired me and so many before. He always had a positive word of encouragement for me, most often humble words of wisdom.

We had a strong connection in this communication we call art. It was honest and real. There was no pretension in the man, and he exuded a glowing peace that encompassed all. We could feel his soul and see it in his work.

Rest in peace, Elemore. You will always be in our hearts.

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Morgan at work on the Manhattan skyline. Photo by Brian Guidry

Larry B. Minton, attorney
Some years ago, after visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico, I became inspired to learn to paint. I taught myself to use acrylics and pastels in landscape painting. My son-in-law, Reese, knew that I liked Elemore’s work, and about three years ago Reese called me and asked me if I would be interested in meeting him. He told me that he had spoken to Elemore about me, and I could bring some of my current artwork for his review. I jumped at the chance. I wanted to see his studio and learn something about how he worked.

We visited Elemore one summer afternoon. I found him to be an exceedingly courteous gentleman. He showed us around his studio in the middle of many acres of rice fields. The location was pure Louisiana landscape and a prime subject for an Elemore Morgan painting.  

Elemore reviewed my work and, I was relieved that he was not too negative. We discussed the importance of drawing in art, and Elemore encouraged me to always carry a sketch pad and to draw something every day. He actually gave me a drawing lesson, and I have remembered and built upon that lesson.  

I enjoyed my afternoon with Elemore Morgan. He was a true gentleman and a person to be admired. He exemplified what an artist should be. I always looked forward to spending another afternoon with him, and now that is not possible. That is my loss, and I truly regret it.

Jackie Lyle, executive director of the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana
Elemore has been a constant presence in the PASA sphere for so long, regularly seated house left on one of the first three rows at our performances, sketching artists as they performed, in detail that I certainly never would have seen on my own. I cried when I saw that he included some of his sketches of PASA artists in the retrospective of his and his father’s work at the Ogden Museum of Art in 2006. Elemore was one of PASA’s biggest fans and — I must say that I know this — one of mine. A kinder person I have never known, although I made note that I heard him make a biting comment about another person once. But only once. We who are have been bathed in the generous goodness of Elemore can only hope to remember his example. Love and condolences to his beautiful family.

Dona Simons, artist
I had admired Elemore’s landscapes for many years but had never met him. Our painting styles are very different. It wasn’t until September 2005 I discovered something we had in common.

 20080528-cover-17.jpg
 Simons and Morgan at the opening of Sustained Winds

A week after Katrina, my husband, my cat and I left New Orleans, our home and my studio sitting in 7 feet of water. We took up residence in a motel in Crowley and were grateful to attend Festivals Acadiens. We went to hear The Traiteurs, where I discovered Elemore doing watercolor sketches of one of my favorite painting subjects, Sonny Landreth. I approached Elemore, and we had a lovely conversation regarding our commonality and circumstances. He said that Crowley was not far from where he lived and that he would call me so that one day I could bring some of the paintings I had evacuated with to his beautiful studio and see his work.

I was very disappointed not to hear from him. On Oct. 12 we returned to New Orleans, not to our house but to an apartment.

In January 2006, I attended the opening reception for “Sustained Winds,” a group art exhibit at the ACA in Lafayette. Both Elemore and I had artwork included. When Elemore arrived he presented me with an envelope. It was addressed to me from him and postmarked Dec. 9, 2005. In the enclosed letter he explained that, at Festival Acadiens in September, he had placed my contact information in his sketchpad and not found it again until months later. He had called the motel in Crowley to be told we had left. He talked them into giving him my billing address, and he wrote the letter. But he mailed it to the address of my flooded house and so it was returned to him. He kept the letter and brought it to me that night in January. That’s the kind of person he was.

In the brief time since then, I have been honored to have him call me his friend. Among many other things, he did all he could to help me find advice as to the possibility of restoring my flooded artwork.

The world is a poorer place without him.

Shane K. Bernard, historian & curator for McIlhenny Co. and author
I last spoke with Elemore Morgan Jr., on Dec. 31 of last year, when he unexpectedly visited Avery Island with a video crew making a documentary about Robert Flaherty’s 1948 film Louisiana Story. While the crew set up shots in Jungle Gardens, Professor Morgan and I sat on the roots of oak tree along Bayou Petite Anse and talked about the island’s rich history. Struck by the beauty of the place, he expressed a strong interest in painting a series of Island landscapes ­— which, unfortunately, he never was able to start.  

Earlier that year Professor Morgan granted me permission to publish two of his photographs, charging me only half his standard fee simply because he was “interested in the project.” This was the second time he had given me a discount for this reason. But the photos were so good, and he was so soft-spoken and easy to deal with, that I felt bad about paying so little for such extraordinary images, and later I sent him a check for the full amount.

20080528-cover-22.jpg
"Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge" by Elemore Morgan Jr. 2007, acrylic on masonite

Donna Simonie and Bob Zimiles, friends
One early summer day a couple of years ago, a tall, gentle-looking man rang our bell in our Brooklyn apartment building. Although this is New York where we are wary of strangers, I took to him at once — who could resist. He asked if he could go up to the roof of our building to take pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge. He ended up spending two or three days on the roof painting a triptych of the bridge and the Manhattan skyline which is part of his current show. Although my husband and I only had the pleasure of knowing Elemore for that all too brief period, he touched our lives with his energy, his zest for life, his gentle Southern manners and, of course, his talent. We were saddened to learn of his passing. Tomorrow is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. It will have special meaning for us as we recall our friend Elemore.

 20080528-cover-23.jpg
 Morgan works from The Watchtower in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 2007. Photo by Brian Guidry

Ben Sandmel, author of Zydeco!
Elemore was an inspiration to us all. To his beloved family, first and foremost — and, in the most obvious public sense, to the visual artists whom he taught so much and influenced so deeply — but to many other people, as well. He was extremely generous with his time, and he dispensed sage advice with kindly candor, careful attention to detail, and abundant, caring support.

Elemore possessed such a rare and eclectic blend of qualities, including his keen eye, his boundless enthusiasm and wonderment, his deft balance of refinement and earthiness, his love of humor, and the strong yet unassuming spirituality that came across in his respectful understanding of people and animals alike. These traits would have endeared him in any corner of the world. But Elemore was a proud son of south Louisiana, an energetic champion of all that’s best in this region of vast cultural riches. He would paint local landscapes until dark and then move his easel to dance hall bandstands, capturing musical scenes until closing time. From such late-night scenes to lectures at museums, Elemore always seemed effortlessly comfortable, and he instantly put others at ease. A chance encounter with him at the grocery store could well lead to a two-hour conversation in mid-aisle. Time would fly by as any and all topics were considered with great gusto, raising many other subjects for future discussion.

Last fall I was lucky to spend several days with Elemore while working on a magazine article about the film Louisiana Story. (Released in 1948, this docu-drama has long been acclaimed overseas but was little-known at home. Elemore would not accept the notion of such obscurity, and he helped stimulate a new wave of in-state recognition which climaxed in March, with celebrations of the film’s 60th anniversary.) As we drove to rural Cameron Parish — on backroads where every new vista looked like one of Elemore’s paintings — his melodious voice seemed like that of the land itself. And it struck me then, in that special moment, that being in Elemore’s company created a higher awareness of the world and life as art. Not in any pretentious way, but simply by the power of the perceptions that he saw and shared.

Our destination was the home of J.C. Boudreaux, who had starred in Louisiana Story as a teenager. Boudreaux had been chosen for the role of a trapper’s son because it mirrored his real life. He was a natural. After a pleasant visit and an interview, we headed back to Tee Robe Road. “J.C. was perfect for that film,” Elemore commented as we drove through a Morgan-esque sunset, “because he always knew who he was, and he was always at home in his world.”

Amen, Elemore. So did you.

 20080528-cover-02.jpg

 photo by Philip Gould

 

In honor of Elemore Morgan Jr., The Independent Weekly is donating $500 to the Elemore Morgan Jr. Memorial Fund at UL Lafayette in the name of all the contributors to our Elemore Morgan Jr. tribute. Additional contributions to the Elemore Morgan Jr. Memorial Fund can be made to the UL Lafayette Foundation, Office of Development, P.O. Drawer 43410, Lafayette, LA, 70504.

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