Saturday’s Fall Fest ArtWalk celebrates the life and lasting contribution of Elemore Morgan Jr.

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

                                         Photo by Philip Gould

They’re known informally as “the tribe,” a proliferation of artists, many of them still working and living here in Acadiana, who were taught by, influenced by and/or inspired by the late Elemore Morgan Jr. Their artwork hangs in galleries and museums worldwide, but their locus of creativity is south Louisiana.

That tribe comes together Saturday, Sept. 11, to wave its collective paint brush at the inaugural Fall Fest, a special Second Saturday ArtWalk that will fluff downtown Lafayette’s already extravagant tail feathers. A week later, Sept. 18, has been proclaimed Elemore Morgan Day by the state. Lafayette will get a jump on the commemoration of Morgan’s extraordinary life with an ArtWalk like no other.

“He is always Elemore, wherever he is. He was right there in his skin. Very nurturing, but very open-minded,” recalls artist Tina Girouard, who slips between present and past tense when speaking about her former mentor. Morgan died in May of 2008, but for many like Girouard, who met the artist as a student at USL in the mid 1960s, he is still very much present. “Elemore has always been amazingly, surprisingly present,” Girouard adds. “He has always just been absolutely rock solid in himself, in the quietest way, because I think his soul was always calm.”

Girouard, with Morgan and a few dozen other artists, was a founding member of the Artists Alliance, a Lafayette arts collective that was born in the mid ’80s and held numerous exhibitions, mainly in the old Lafayette Hardware Store on Vermilion Street, for about 15 years. Former members of the alliance have contributed work for a tribute exhibition that opens Saturday at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

The exhibition is being arranged by Francis Pavy, who at 7 years old began taking private art lessons from Morgan, later studied under his discerning eye at USL, and eventually became his close friend.

The Artists Alliance’s first show, in 1986, was titled “The Show of Shows.” It filled abandoned store fronts along Jefferson Street at a time when downtown Lafayette barely registered a pulse. It was a galvanizing moment, coming at roughly the same time as the first Festival International.
“It was not only an opportunity for artists to show their work,” says Pavy, “but also kind of a step toward urban renewal.”

And Elemore Morgan Jr. was in on the ground floor.

“He exuded this wonder about the world, always. He was always excited about new things,” says artist Kathy Reed, another Artists Alliance founder who also teaches art in the Lafayette public school system. “A lot of us who might be doing work that is considered edgy or avant-garde all value the teaching of people like Elemore, and those of who teach pass it on to our students.”

Morgan is probably best known for his iconic south Louisiana landscapes — impressionistic explosions of color he faithfully and lovingly captured, literally, “in the field.” He routinely ventured out in an old pickup from his Vermilion Parish home, packing an easel, paints and brushes, stopping when a vista moved him, laboring quietly in a pith helmet and khaki pants — a personal art safari — quietly captivated by the spread of sky, cloud and earth, and lovingly interpreting it.

“He represented that tradition that’s slowly being ground up — the tradition of painting in the fields, live,” says artist Steven Breaux, a former USL student of Morgan’s who now teaches the same advanced drawing class at UL that Morgan taught for many years.

Morgan’s death left a jagged tear in the fabric of Lafayette’s creative community. Within a month of his passing, an arts endowment that had recently been established through the Community Foundation of Acadiana was renamed in his honor. The Elemore Morgan Jr. Arts Endowment will begin paying dividends Saturday when $6,000 in grants are distributed to four institutions: the AcA, the Shaw Center in Baton Rouge and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Prospect 2 in New Orleans. Grants to individual artists are planned for the future, says Gail Romero, co-owner of Van Eaton & Romero Real Estate and longtime friend of Elemore and Mary Morgan. Romero is one of a handful of Lafayette art patrons who have shepherded the endowment from idea to reality.

“Elemore was just a very special person, and it was my commitment to him and to Francis [Pavy],” Romero says. “I just feel a responsibility.”

Breaux characterizes Morgan as a sort of binding agent — an adhesive that encouraged interaction among all of Acadiana’s creative pursuits. Morgan was a visual artist, but his natural curiosity and kindness drew writers and musicians into his gyre as well. “Elemore was a link from the past to the present and to the future,” adds Breaux, who says he can’t look at a south Louisiana landscape without seeing it through the filter of Morgan’s work. “I’ll bet you everyone you talk to who knows Elemore’s work would say the same thing.”

Fall Fest — A Celebration of Elemore Morgan Jr.
Downtown Lafayette
Sat., Sept 11, 4 - 8 p.m.
Featuring an outdoor art festival, gallery exhibitions, al fresco dining, street animation and activities for children.

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