With ties to the original settlers and an abiding devotion to Acadian and Creole furniture, cabinetmaker Greg Arceneaux sets up shop for the first time at Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. By Walter Pierce
Greg Arceneaux traces his family history back to Le Grand Dérangement — the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British in the mid 18th century — and a land grant in St. James Parish. An apocryphal tale in the Arceneaux family says the oak trees at Oak Alley plantation were planted by his ancestors.
It’s little wonder the master craftsman would be drawn to a style of furniture that originated in colonial Louisiana and nearly fell extinct as the march of modernity and mass production washed over Bayou State culture a century or so ago.
After graduating from LSU with a fine arts degree — Arceneaux lived for a time in Lafayette in early ’70; he met his wife at the famous Jay’s Lounge and Cockpit in Cankton — he decided that art for art’s sake wasn’t his style. Acadian and Creole furniture were.
But he had to make do at first.
“I wanted to combine utility with beauty,” Arceneaux recalls. “I wanted to give my creations purpose beyond aesthetics and allow them to connect with people’s daily lives. I am basically self-taught because in the early 1970s there was very little training available for aspiring furniture makers in our area. I moved to Lafayette and managed to acquire some basic tools to practice woodworking techniques using recycled and found wood from demolition sites, houses being torn down as well as motorcycle and music store crates.”
Arceneaux’s awakening coincided with another renaissance in Lafayette: Cajun pride, roughly speaking.
“We began learning the Cajun French language that was being lost to the older generations, we started paying attention to our uniqueness and clinging to it before it disappeared,” the 60-year-old says. “I started visiting antique shops and collectors. There was a show in The Cabildo which also came to Lafayette of traditional Louisiana colonial furniture; pieces all made by Creole, Acadian and Spanish Louisiana native cabinetmakers. It was the first show of its kind as there are not very many examples of this style of furniture that have survived.”
The simplicity and elegance of the style caught Arceneaux’s eye. Furniture became a way to express himself artistically, to commemorate his cultural heritage and to make things that celebrate form and function with equal aplomb. His shop in Covington turns out everything from $10 roux spoons to $30,000 custom conference tables, but most of his business is from regular folks who appreciate the austere beauty of traditional Acadian and Creole furniture, and who simply want a solid piece of elegant furniture in their home. Arceneaux works with traditional Louisiana woods — cypress, poplar, walnut, Spanish cedar, cherry, pecan — that are locally sourced.
But the eye for detail doesn’t end there: “We use traditional techniques to ensure that these pieces will endure for generations just like the originals that inspired them,” he adds.
As a member of the Louisiana Crafts Guild, Arceneaux’s work is available in Lafayette year-round at Sans Souci Fine Crafts Gallery located adjacent to the eponymous park downtown. But he returns to Lafayette this weekend to join other crafts people at Girard Park during Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, a most appropriate venue for his Acadian and Creole creations.
“The decorative arts and furnishings are a tangible part of our culture just like the music, food, dance and language,” he adds. “What sets us apart is that once the last note has been played, the last dance danced, last bite of Granma’s delicacies consumed, my furniture is still there. What makes them similar is just like the recipes, lyrics, language and instruments, my furniture can be passed down generations.”
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
Abshire has rejoined the Lafayette Bar Association, where she previously served as marketing coordinator under longtime Executive Director Susan Holliday
Home-grown Baton Rouge market/deli heads to Lafayette.
Deadline for submitting noms for annual competition is March 15
Whitney Bank officials have confirmed that the downtown branch will cease to exist when it relocates its regional headquarters to River Ranch at the end of May.
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Downtown Lafayette restaurant launches new concept near Le Triomphe
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Yeah, it's smoked venison sausage stuffed in a suckling pig stuffed in a lamb and roasted over an open fire.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Reamco founders Brent Milam and Ashley Lane now shareholders in acquiring company and part of its management team.
Low heels, high style
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.