Plein Air Painting Louisiana
April/May 2019

Louisiana is next on my list of States – it will be State #26 in my Quest to Paint all 50 States.  I had to carefully consider the time of year for this trip due to the heat, humidity and potential for hurricanes in the Gulf State of Louisiana. The delta of the mighty Mississippi River  and the whole southern part of this state is  liquid – rivers, swamps and ocean all coming together in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Mississippi River is one of the largest river systems in the world and is held back reluctantly by a series of levees constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a vain attempt to control what goes on.  Human hubris in the extreme in my opinion. 

I didn’t want to be in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season so that left us a short window of opportunity to be there after Mardi Gras and before the worst of the heat and hurricane season got started.  We settled on late April into early May and hoped that the weather would cooperate with our plans.

 Louisiana Driving

I don’t think I would have been comfortable driving on this trip alone – very grateful to have the 3 of us alternating with driving and navigating.  The roads are more hazardous than we are used to with road engineering seeming to be an art yet to be perfected in this State!  A lot of the roads are either elevated on bridges or levees or confusing to the first time visitor.  In the Bayou country roads are on levees with swamp on both sides.  One distracted moment means you are in the water as there are usually no guard rails or sufficient shoulder to be of help.  Road signs aren’t placed well for visibility.  Road markings are often so faded as to be of little assistance especially in the dark.   Thank goodness of cell phone navitation!  One thing that is positive is that there are so many cell phone towers along the way.  I have never seen so many.   Driving in New Orleans city itself is to be avoided if at all possible.  We decided ahead of time that when we were ready to come back into town we would first get rid of the rental car at the airport – then use taxi or Uber to get us into the French Quarter and any other place we couldn’t walk to.  As it turned out, this was an extremely wise decision.

My wonderful travel buddies for this trip were Artists Jean Thomas of Aptos, Eunice van der Linden of Scotts Valley and myself, Suzanne Elliott of Bonny Doon – all of us California Artists from the Santa Cruz area.  We have traveled together many times before so we are a reliable and travel tested group.  I so appreciate you both!  Thank you!

Setting off – Saturday, April 27, 2019

Our flight to New Orleans from San Jose, California took rather longer than originally anticipated and involved four different airports altogether.  San Jose to Los Angeles – change planes, then Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas and then finally to New Orleans, Louisiana.  We could have flown to Europe in the amount of time this consumed which was almost 12 hours.  Our flights were packed.  Southwest Airlines does a good job of allowing us 2 checked bags with no extra fees. Necessary with all our art stuff. 


Upon arrival at New Orleans, we got our rental car for the week and headed to our Best Western Hotel on the Western  outskirts of the City – The Bayou Inn.  We crossed the Mississippi River on a huge bridge to get there.  We selected the hotel to be in our line of travel West and also reasonably close to an Art Supply store so we could purchase our Gamsol Low Odor Mineral Spirits for the trip.  One cannot fly with this product as it is combustible.   Jean and I are room mates for this trip.   Thank you Jean for being such an understanding,  patient and fun roomy! 

 

Sunday April 28

We got an early start the next morning but not too early as there is a two hour time difference between Louisiana and  California.  Also, it being a Sunday, the Art Supply place didn’t open until 10am.  We had the Best Western Breakfast that is included in the room price, then checked out.  We were able to find a Michael Art Supply store in Metairie – phone is (504)464-9884 – they are open on a Sunday at 10am which was perfect for us.

 

Plantation Homes along the Mississippi

We had decided ahead of time that we would travel along side roads to see and paint at some of the old historic Plantation Homes near the Mississippi – they aren’t hard to find and we ended up picking the beautiful and wonderfully restored Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie as our destination for lunch as well as a relaxing and fun afternoon of painting there.  It was perfect – As its’ name suggests, it has the most perfect Alley of ancient Oak trees – straight out of Gone with the Wind!  It has been used in many movies.  Their café was wonderful for a civilized lunch/brunch on a Sunday morning.  I highly recommend it.  Here is the link -

 

Most of these old plantations were located very close to the river so that transportation was easy for the crops that were grown there (cotton and tobacco) and to get to and from New Orleans down river in the days of horse and buggy.  The river would have been the easiest way to get around I imagine. 

After our lunch we settled on our afternoon painting spot – it was perfect!  The painting I did from that spot is shown above – it was busy with other tourists but not too bad as we were a distance away from the main area where the Big House tour groups start.  It was great to finally be able to paint after all the effort it had taken to get to this point.  We painted for about 3 hours before deciding that our first painting was finished and it was now time for tea before setting out on the road again to find New Iberia parish and town where we were to stay for the next three nights.

New Iberia and the Bayou Country

We are staying at the comfortable Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel here in New Iberia for the 3 nights we plan to be in the vicinity.  They are at 400 Spanish Town Blvd., New Iberia, CA 70560.  They have a really good cooked full breakfast that comes with the room price and lots of other amenities that make this a great base camp for exploring the Bayou Country.  It is close by to New Iberia Main Street which is fun to visit in the evening for dinner and entertainment.  Our first night we had dinner at the highly recommended “Janes Sea Food and Chinese” just down the road.  It was quite excellent and the place to get your fill of super fresh crawfish and other seafood items.  Our waitress was quite fun and made our evening even more memorable!

Avery Island and the home of Tabasco Sauce. 

We spent our first full day in the Bayou Country at the home of Tabasco Sauce on Avery Island.  This is actually a “salt island” of which there are many in this part of the country.  Avery Island itself is very interesting and worthy of a full visit to the Mcilhenney Company factory and the protected swamp and garden area called The Jungle Gardens.  https://www.tabasco.com/visit-avery-island/We paid one ticket price for both and found a great place to paint with shade, a breeze and lots of birdsong.  Several small alligators were our nearby easel companions this day – very handsome they are too! The one in this photo was about 7 feet long.

Here is the painting I did from this Jungle Gardens location

After three hours of painting at The Gardens we visited the Avery Island Café for a lunch of pulled pork sandwich, lemonade and salad.  Very Southern.   We did the Tour of the Tabasco factory after lunch there.  Back at our hotel for an hour of two of down time, we enjoyed a swim in the outdoor pool at the hotel – the water was definitely refreshing at this time of year.  Not too hot yet which is good as the humidity is high and can make the heat feel very oppressive.  In the evening we went out to New Iberia’s Main Street and found a fun and good place for dinner at Bojangles Oyster and Sushi Bar there.  Excellent food and eclectic atmosphere – I recommend it. 

After dinner we three met in one of our rooms for numerous games of cards – a lot of fun but stimulating – as a result I didn’t get to sleep for quite a while that night. 

 

Rip Van Winkle Gardens

The next morning after breakfast we headed out to our second Bayou Garden location to paint.  These gardens were fantastic and also hid a secret history that we only found out able after being there for a couple of hours.  Check out this video on The History Channel about what happened there in 1980.  Salt mines and oil drilling are featured.  Not to be missed!

 Sinkhole Disaster – Nov. 20, 1980 – Lake Peigneur

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_feWtkSucvE

 

Many gorgeous peacocks inhabit these gardens as well as old artifacts from Bali.  I painted a set of stone Balinese temple gates for something different this time.  

The three of us painted until 1pm and then had lunch at the outdoor café overlooking the lawn and grounds near Lake Peigneur.  As we ate we could see the ruined chimney off shore in the Lake and this got us curious to find out why that was there.  We then discovered the story of the sinkhole disaster in 1980. See link above -  Truly amazing to think that no sign of this now remains other than the chimney of the ruined house still standing in the water of Lake Peigneur.  Jean's painting from this site is shown below - more Balinese temple sculpture.

Back at the hotel before going out of dinner later I used the cardio equipment for 30 minutes in the hotel exercise room.  We decided to return to Janes Seafood again for our last dinner before returning to New Orleans.  We plan to return via the Mississippi River route in the hope of getting a painting done on the levee overlooking the mighty river. 

Mississippi River Levee and Visions of Mark Twain

The next morning we headed back east towards New Orleans where we plan to spend the next two days enjoying the music, food and sights.  After 3 hours of driving we finally found a spot where we could get an unobstructed view of the river and its’ barge/boat traffic and in a place that made a good painting spot.  Not so easy as it turned out – the river was 18 feet above normal and many spots we tried were visually blocked by trees and other impediments.  But being persistent finally paid off in a place called Vacherie.  We sat on the levee, painted for about an hour and a half and had a picnic lunch.  Here is a photo of Eunice on the Levee and then a photo of my painting from that spot – it was so hot and humid there we couldn’t take more than that amount of time.  So quick painting skills were needed by all of us to get it done before it became intolerable – the ants were also biting as we sat on the levee grass.  The things we endure to get our painting! 

 

New Orleans

We had decided ahead of time to drop off our rental car at the airport as we approached New Orleans from the West rather that be foolish and drive it into the heart of the French Quarter.  We were very glad we did!  It was much more relaxing to get a taxi and let it get us to our destination for the next two days.  Lots of traffic, complicated navigation and many one way streets later we arrived at our hotel,  The Inn on St. Ann Street in the middle of the French Quarter. https://www.frenchquarterguesthouses.com/inn-on-st-ann.html -

 

We stayed at this boutique hotel for 2 nights – not cheap but worth it for the historic nature of the property and the proximity to all the fun, music and good food on offer in the French Quarter.  We were able to walk most places we wanted to visit.  We did check in with the hotel manager on areas/streets to avoid late at night.  The New Orleans Police are very visible in all the high traffic tourist areas which is reassuring.  We had no problems of any kind  during our visit. 

Our first evening in town at dinner at an Italian restaurant on Decater Street – upstairs on the outside balcony – a great view of the action and fun with a nice evening breeze blowing from the River. We had been advised to avoid Bourbon Street in favor of Frenchmens Street for quality music and nightclubs.  Less drunken parties and serious music lovers now go to Frenchmens.  It did not disappoint.  We spent a couple of hours at a wonderful Music Club called The Spotted Cat on Frenchmens.  $5 cover charge gets you in the door to some of the best of live Jazz performances.  The Shotgun Jazz Band was featured the night we were there – superb!  The walk back to our hotel later was most entertaining!  So much music and life happening all along the street – it took us ages to get back as we kept stopping and watching and listening. 

 

The next morning we headed to the famous Café du Monde for Beignets and Chicory Coffee at breakfast time.  A jazz band was playing right outside – you can’t escape the music here – it is fabulous!  And uplifting.  It’s the kind of place that a lot of people have on their “bucket list” of things to do before they die – so many seniors, some in frail health, enjoying the ambiance, music and beignets.  Heartwarming indeed.  We had decided that painting in this environment would be too difficult so gave ourselves up to just enjoying the day.  In that spirit, we signed up for a lunchtime cruise on the Steamboat Paddleship “Natchez” – a couple of hours long, it steams down the Mississippi and then back again with a guided tour of the waterfront where still evident damage from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 can been seen – The on-board lunch buffet was excellent (surprisingly) and the music good too (of course). 

Our last evening in New Orleans and Louisiana we headed out to Frenchmen Street  again and stopped at the Marigney Restaurant at 640 Frenchmen Street nearby for dinner.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60864-d426416-Reviews-The_Marigny_Brasserie-New_Orleans_Louisiana.htmlReally fantastic food and unique atmosphere, and more live music too.  Another great evening in New Orleans – no disappointment here!


For our final culinary delight before heading for the airport the next morning we had breakfast at the delightful Café Beignet at 334 Royal Street in New Orleans – more than just beignets of course – Cajun fare and more plus a fun street scene to watch with our meal.  There are several other Café Beignets around the French quarter not just the one we went to.

We managed to get our entire trip done to Louisiana without any severe weather or nasty heat.  We got lucky and were most grateful.  As our flight was leaving New Orleans for California we heard about a line of severe storms approaching.  It was a good time to leave.  Thank you Louisiana!  You are beautiful. 

 

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