Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

February 13, 2018
by macurak21

Professor Longhair

Henry Roeland Byrd, also known as Professor Longhair, was a blues singer and pianist from New Orleans. He has been given the title of “the founding father of New Orleans R&B” over a decade after his death in 1980.

He started to take his music seriously in 1948 when he earned a gig at the Caldonia Club in New Orleans. By 1949, he had laid tracks for a music label in Dallas, Star Talent. His band at the time was named the Shuffling Hungarians. In 1950, Longhair released his first and only national R&B hit, “Bald Head.”

He went on to make records with many music labels: Atlantic, Federal, and Wasco. Around 1964, Longhair actually abandoned the music scene to work outside of the business. He was soon rediscovered and was listed to play at the second New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1971. After this performance, he had tours in Europe and made more albums. Each year, until his death in 1980, he closed out the final show of Jazz Fest. In 1992, Professor Longhair was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

For more information on Professor Longhair, click here and here.

February 12, 2018
by ahson21

Angola Prison

Judicial systems are a necessary part of every modern society; and New Orleans, Louisiana is no different.  Prior to 1835, State and local prisoners were held in a New Orleans city jail. However, by 1835 the prison fell victim to vermin infestation; and, as a result, the first state penitentiary in Louisiana was built under the control of a private firm.

The Louisiana state penitentiary is located 134 miles south of New Orleans in Angola, Louisiana.  The all-security penitentiary houses men who are on death row prior to their execution. Men, and also women, sentenced to execution are driven the 134 miles from the New Orleans Parish Prison to the state execution chamber at Angola.

The movement of these highly dangerous prisoners, and their subsequent executions, from the city of New Orleans to Angola ensured that these controversial acts were geographically remote from the population center of New Orleans. This likely resulted in fewer crimes in New Orleans and protests from those opposed to execution as a form of punishment. Ultimately, this lead to a “safer” New Orleans.

The prison at Angola was established 30 years prior to the onset of the Civil War. As the civil war came and went, the prison fell under new control, including under Confederate Major Samuel James. James expanded the Angola prison property to include 8,000 more acres. Major James named the Prison after the name for the home that housed his slaves, Angola.

Through the years, the prison was passed down through the James family and stories of abuse to the inmates surfaced.  These rumors proved to be true.  As a result, control of the prison control shifted to the Louisiana Board of Control. Subsequently, significant advancements such as the hiring of new officers and new construction was conducted.

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The penitentiary was no only threatened by poor management, but was also threatened by various floods throughout the early 1900’s.  These floods left the crop based economy upon which Angola relied, in ruins. This economic impact led to Angola changing hands countless more times, until it was purchased by Henry Fuqua in XX date. Fuqua expanded Angola to 18,000 acres, all of which remain a part of the correctional facility today.

As hardships hit the United States in the form of economic trouble and wars, these hardships were felt throughout Angola. Budgets were reduced for correctional facilities and, as a result, inmate assaults increased so much that Angola was nicknamed, “The Bloodiest Prison in the South.”

In 1972, the wide ranging, negative aspects of Angola were addressed when Elayn Hunt was appointed to the position of Director of Corrections by the newly elected Governor Edwin Edwards. Hunt set about improving prison conditions. He exponentially increased the number of security guards. This was an important first step in creating a humane and more just correctional facility that were followed by improvements in the areas of health care, safety, and honoring the constitution.

Today, Angola not only survives but still operates as a correctional facility.  Angola is still located in the West Feliciana Parish housing over 5,000 inmates, with an average sentence of 93 years.

Individuals interested in the history of Angola Penitentiary can visit the museum and gift shop. Various historical exhibits and programs allow for a hands-on history of the importance and struggle of Angola prison in both New Orleans and Louisiana state history.

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information for this blog post was drawn from:


February 10, 2018
by kbekisz20


The krewes of New Orleans are a time-honored tradition that have become integrated into the culture of Mardi Gras. Krewes are societies that operate for the purpose of parading during the carnival season surrounding Mardi Gras, and there are a huge number of them that currently exist, many of which have been around for decades. One of these is called Zulu, and it is particularly important. In the history of the krewes, there was a large period of time in which African-Americans could not participate. So, like with many other things, they created their own version of the cultural phenomenon for themselves. Krewes for African-American New Orleanians apparently began as benevolent aid societies, which were community organizations that aided their members during hard times. Zulu seems to have started like this, made up of the members of several different groups divided by the wards of the city that became a society for Mardi Gras parades. They were not without controversy, however, as they used blackface in their parading, making it extremely unpopular to be a Zulu for a while during the 1960s.5898e9c5d3e15.image

Today, Zulu is going strong. They are particularly proud of their place in the community. They support the community by donating Christmas baskets to the needy, contributing to the Southern University Scholarship Fund, and supporting public schools. Their past members include notable figures, such as Louis Armstrong, who was King Zulu in 1949. Anybody can be a member of Zulu, and their membership includes local government figures, educators, and laborers.


Zulu remains one of the most renowned krewes in New Orleans. It maintains the tradition of King and Queen Zulu, and still sends elaborate floats down the parade route. One of their traditions is to hand out painted coconuts along the parade route, in the same way that other parade participants may hand out candy or costume beads. It is a point of great honor to get a Zulu coconut at Mardi Gras.ZuluCoconut

February 8, 2018
by JGB

Deborah Luster

There’s a political component to “One Big Self,” of course. By creating present-day inmate portraits that appear to be antiques, Luster slyly suggests that while the rest of the world has undergone social and technological sea changes, incarceration is essentially the same as it has been for more than a century.

Doug MacCash, New Orleans Times-Picayune

February 8, 2018
by JGB

Beyond the Page

A quadroon nurse followed them about with a faraway, meditative air. — Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (2)

Kim Vaz-Deville, author of The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition:

February 6, 2018
by bekisz20

When The Sea Speaks

Symbolism is no new concept in literature, and yet it is still an effective method of communicating significant points in a written work. In The Awakening, Kate Chopin uses the sea as one such symbol. As I will discuss below, the strategic mention of the sea and its characteristics parallels the emotions of Edna Pontelier as her story progresses.

A painting by Danish artist Peder Severin Kroyer

Summer Evening on Skagen Sønderstrand: by Danish artist Peder Severin Kroyer

At the beginning of the story, there are several indications that the characters are near water, but the first direct mention of the sea appears in chapter three. In context, Edna is crying after her husband accuses her of not caring for their children as a mother should. Edna stops in this moment of time before the tears fall, and the everlasting voice of the sea reaches her ears (Chopin, Chapter 3). The author goes on to describe the water as “it broke like a mournful lullaby upon the night (Chopin, Chapter 3).” The parallel between the sea and Edna’s emotions is found when she expresses sorrow as the waves sing their sad song.

Later on in her story, we learn that Edna has been trying to learn how to swim. Up until this point, she has been unsuccessful, but as it finally comes to her, she becomes drunk in her sense of power, effectively trying to conquer the sea and find freedom in it, as we see in the following passage:

She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fantasy. As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself. (Chopin, Chapter 10)

The above-mentioned pursuit of freedom in the sea is ultimately what ends Edna’s life at the end of the book.  Perhaps it is her despair at Robert’s departure, or a longing to recapture the feelings of that summer, that lead her back to Grand Isle. It is there that she goes for a swim in the water and drowns in the sea whose spirit called her name.



February 6, 2018
by gaile17

Chopin and Character description

The tan of the seashore had left her face, and her forehead was smooth, white, and polished beneath her heavy, yellow-brown hair. There were a few freckles on her face, and a small, dark mole near the upper lip and one on the temple, half-hidden in her hair. (72-73)

Chopin found a way to gracefully describe characters without making it seem like we were reading a laundry list of features. This description of Edna is truly fascinating to me because describing main characters is something that I have struggled with in my own writing. This description is done so smoothly that it feels as if I was standing on the sidewalk looking at Edna myself. Chopin didn’t give the feeling that Edna was describing herself or that she was being viewed by another. It was organic within the story. Another interesting aspect of this description is the attention to tone. Knowing that Edna is an artist it makes sense that the description would highlight the different tones of her body: white, yellow-brown, dark. We see the attention to tone in other areas of the story, once again these areas are connected to character description. “…they were a yellowish-brown, about the color of her hair.” (4, describing Edna’s eyes). It seems that the majority of the character description is focused on the women as well. We get little details about the other characters, such as Mr. Pontellier’s hair is brown and straight. Yet Madame Ratignolle is described in great detail.

“…the spun-gold hair that comb nor confining pin could restrain; the blue eyes that were like nothing but sapphires; two lips that pouted, that were so red one could only think of cherries or some other delicious crimson fruit in looking at them.” (11).

This description is most likely more detailed than others because Edna is very fond of her and eventually ends up drawing her, but it still seems interesting that there is so much attention paid to these women. Also, Chopin, once again, worked a character description in smoothly and beautifully. I will be taking notes from her for my future writing.

February 1, 2018
by byrd19

To Be Human

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight—perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. (Chopin, 34)

The complexity of womanhood, identity, and autonomy are explored with great nuance throughout Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Edna Pontellier is introduced at a point in her life that feels at once like the brink of a fresh start and the edge of a tragic unraveling. Throughout the first chapters of the novel, we see Edna begin to attempt to form an image of herself on her own terms without the use of the societal roles she fills in her community as a basis for it. Edna, like the majority of women in her class during the Victorian era, is expected to devote her time and energy chiefly to other people. In their view, she is not a dynamic human with full control over her destiny but a cog in a machine that should try its best not to disrupt what they view as the natural order of things. Edna’s awakening begins when she chooses to disrupt and that disruption begins as a mental one. She begins resisting the things that are expected of her while simultaneously becoming more sensitive to her own feelings and experiences as well as attuned to the world around her.  Edna is shown from the very beginning of the book to have a rich interior life that goes unnoticed by those presumed to be the closest to her. Even Robert, with whom she shares a seemingly rare connection, cannot seem to grasp the depth to which she is beginning to analyze her precarious station in life. Chopin writes Edna’s innermost thoughts with a care that belies a young woman who, although accustomed to hiding her thoughts, is beginning to understand the ways in which she shouldn’t have to conceal and suppress such vital aspects of herself in order to appease those around her.


February 1, 2018
by vanderzon21

Power of the Ocean

Kate Chopin has demonstrated that she is a masterful writer when it comes to lexicon, but she also utilizes symbols in a unique way. In using water – the ocean – to not only entice her character but represent her character, the readers get glimpses throughout the novel as to how conflicted and unsettled Edna Pontellier can be.

“She could hear again the ripple of the water, the flapping sail” (78, Chopin). At this point in the novel, Edna has begun to fully “awaken,” shedding the drowsy fog that had currently surrounded her countenance and made her a placable character, wife, and woman. The memory of the waves and “the glint of the moon upon the bay” (78, Chopin) incite a restlessness in her that drives her to seek out Mademoiselle Reisz, a superb pianist with a sharp tongue. Mademoiselle Reisz appears to be one of the only characters who can sense the unrest and the reasons for the abrupt changes in Edna. However, Mademoiselle Reisz remains indifferent and does not react to Edna’s outbursts.

“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude” (18) writes Chopin as Edna is first introduced. And in that paragraph, the whole of Edna’s personality can be found. The moods of the sea, so reminiscent of her own, hold a beauty and power to them that Edna does not understand at this point. It begins with whispering, the lure of freedom and independence. It escalates to clamoring, as she branches away from her husband and her children for a brief time, reveling in an exciting lifestyle as she revels in he own existence. Yet, she returns to gentle “murmurings” before Mr. Pontellier’s departure to New York. The fluctuation continues as she struggles to realize her freedom, while battling the “reality” that constantly coats her in fog.

Not only can Edna’s emotions be described by the ocean, but her reaction to the water as well. The warmth and glints of the ocean either soothe her, or agitate her need to feel something & react. It resembles Albert Camus’ The Stranger, in which Mersault is driven to react aggressivly as a result of the sun’s heat and the glare of the waves. The ocean is a deity to whom they answer and to which they will always return.

February 1, 2018
by ahson21

Property vs. Spouse in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”

The inequalities between men and women are present throughout the entirety of The Awakening.  More specifically, they are present in the marriage of Léonce and Edna. Léonce views his wife as a piece of property more than a life partner. This is apparent when Léonce responds to Edna returning home with a sunburn, “looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.”  (The Awakening, Kate Chopin; Page 4) There are countless more examples of this scenario throughout the book, such as when Edna abandons her reception day. After further evaluating the relations between Edna and Léonce, it is clear that Léonce is in the marriage more as a superficial business, as a means of corporate gain, than for the love of his wife and family. It is interesting to see how as a husband, Léonce believes money and extravagant gifts supplement emotional connection and attachment in his marriage. Edna’s response is even more intriguing as she becomes more independent and engages in affairs, eventually falling in love with Robert Lebrun.  Kate Chopin further emphasizes the inequality in this partnership by referring to Edna more commonly as Léonce’s wife than with her own given name when in context regarding to Léonce.

February 1, 2018
by dietz21

Gender Roles in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”

Rebellion from the main character Mrs. Pontellier is something made clear from the get-go, at first in a subtle way. Mrs. Pontellier rejects the strict rules for women in this time period. At the start of the book this is a legitimate issue to her husband, who complains about her lack of interest and care that she gives their children. Gender roles are brought up when Mr. Pontellier thinks, “If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?” (pg. 7). The idea that a man could care for his children instead of the mother was far-fetched, and his argument is that since he works, it should not be his job to be a caretaker for the children. Mrs. Pontellier soon after this conversation finds herself crying but claims she does not know why. The way Kate Chopin presents the confrontation between the couple is very realistic to the way women can become frustrated with society and the way women’s role in it is perceived, though we’ve already seen that Edna Pontellier has very little interest in what women are supposed to be concerned with, such as being the adoring wife and devote child caretaker. She is conflicted because while she knows it should not have to be this way, she also feels how kind and loving her husband can be despite his misogynistic views. This is another thing that women today are still dealing with: while we may love our significant others, they may not always share the same progressive views as us and may still stick to the belief of gender roles.

February 1, 2018
by macurak21

The Art of Words

One thing that resonates with me about Kate Chopin through her novel The Awakening is that no matter how long the story is, she is able to show so much through her words. When reading The Awakening, readers are able to picture the setting so vividly that it feels as if they are actually there experiencing everything with Edna Pontellier.

“Mr. Pontellier, unable to read his newspaper with any degree of comfort, arose with an expression and an exclamation of disgust. He walked down the gallery and across the narrow “bridges” which connected the Lebrun cottages on with the other. He had been seated before the main house. The parrot and the mocking-bird were the property of Madame Lebrun, and they had the right to make all the noise they wished. Mr. Pontellier had the privilege of quitting thier society when they ceased to be entertaining.” (1)

While this quote is in favor of Mr. Pontellier, I think it shows a great representation of how descriptive Chopin makes her work. I am able to sit and imagine as if I am there with Mr. Pontellier. I can almost hear the parrot and mocking-bird making all the chirping (and speaking) that they wished. Chopin then goes on to describe Mr. Pontellier in such great detail, saying that, “He was a man of forty, of medium height and rather slender build; he stooped a little. His hair was brown and straight, parted on one side. His beard was neatly and closely trimmed.” (1)

Chopin1Many novels and stories that are published now seem to want to get straight to the point too soon without showing the reader the environment around the characters. I have experienced this a lot in novels that I have been reading where they just choose a major city, like New York City because it is so easy to conjure up an image of what that city looks like. I know when I read novels, I want to know what the story would be like if I was a character within it, and I feel like Chopin is able to take the simplest setting and allow the reader to see it, not only as if they were there, but if they were Edna.

Although this story is not written in first-person, Chopin is able to write in third-person as if she is. I personally think she is able to do this through the detailed and evocative imagery that she explicitly uses in this novel, creating the vivid, yet depressing feeling that needs to be there in order for readers to understand the story.

(If you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now.)

The ending of the story also invites such vivid picture for the readers. The words that Chopin uses makes the story go from a depressing feel to almost feeling free.

“She thought of Léonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought they could possess her, body and soul…She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for an instant, then sank again. Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavarly officer changed as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of the pinks filled the air.” (116)

The readers are able to experience the life that she missed and wanted to go back to. They are able to imagine the voices of her father’s and sister’s while hearing the bark of the neighbor’s dog. They could feel Edna finally being in a place where she can be happy and she doesn’t have to hide how she feels.


January 31, 2018
by kbekisz20

Giving Up Self

There is a critical line spoken by Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening: “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.” (64) There is an important concept here, one that is both intrinsic to the character of Mrs. Pontellier and to the idea of self. Over the course of the book, Edna Pontellier is seemingly adrift in a lonely sea, unhappy with the life she is bound to. It is established early on that she sometimes wishes she could leave her family and her life. Clearly, she does not like the person she is forced to be. This makes her feelings on giving up her own self for her children even more powerful, and perhaps not as insane as her friend Adele Ratignolle thinks it to be. Surely, any loving parent would give up their life for their child, but life and self are not the same thing. There is a difference between body and soul. When Edna Pontellier says that she would not give up herself, she is saying that she would not sacrifice her most core being, her very spirit. She will not sacrifice who she is for another person. In our own lives, this is something to consider. It takes great strength in character to be so bold in protecting who you are. True, the ultimate sacrifice may be death, but it is something else entirely to give up a soul.

January 25, 2018
by JGB

Creole In A Red Headdress


Olivia’s post led me to this fascinating discussion of Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans’ painting Creole in A Red Headdress (c.1840). Amans travelled from his native France to New Orleans to find work as a portraiturist, and he was quite successful. As a part of an art history seminar, students at Tulane University included Creole in A Red Headdress in an online exhibition entitled From Slave Mothers & Radical Belles to Radical Reformers & Lost Cause Ladies: Representing Women in the Civil War Era. The entry for this painting includes these observations:

…many facets of this portrait remain unsolved, making it unclear as to whether this painting portrays an actual woman or an imagined, eroticized idea of a woman. Because the sitter remains nameless and this painting does not follow the same compositional tenants as Amans’ other portraiture, it might not be considered a portrait at all. In many ways, one might construe Amans’ painting as an exploitative, fantasy-like image of what he believed a mixed-race woman should look like. In New Orleans especially, the view of mixed-race women as both exquisitely beautiful and also sexually available or erotic materialized itself through various pieces of art and literature. While the artistic renderings and theatrical stories of “the Tragic Octoroon”[4] detail the legendary beauty of ill-fated mixed-race women, popular perceptions of mixed-race women deemed their alluring beauty sensuous and licentious. Upon his own exploration of New Orleans, Frenchman Berquin Duvallon characterized, “Mulatto Women [as] full of vanity… with good shapes, polished and elastic skin,” and “[beauty] superior to many of the white girls” (Duvallon, 80).[5] Thus, the intentions behind Amans’ painting could be rooted in these stereotypes.

Jacques Lucien Amans, Portrait of a Gentlewoman, c. 1842.

January 25, 2018
by gaile17

Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge

bayou sauvage

The Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge is on the Eastern side of New Orleans. Not only is it home to many different types of wildlife, which I will talk about more below, but it is also home to many different habitats. Combined, this allows for a natural storm surge protection to be developed within the levees. The refuge is over 24,000 acres and was established in 1990. Like so many other national parks, the people who live in, or visit, New Orleans drive through Bayou Sauvage every day and don’t realize it. This is because they are typically driving along I-10 and don’t have the ability to see more than the edges of the marshes surrounding them. What they will see while driving along though are some of the over 340 different species of birds that occupy the refuge.

Snowy (White) Egret

Snowy Egrets

In the marshes, visitors might be able to see some White Egrets or Blue Herons wading or resting.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Those that are exploring the refuge may come across some snakes or American Alligators. A warning is given about the snakes, “Beware, though; many are poisonous water moccasins. Observe them only from a safe distance.” As for the alligators, if visitors don’t have the opportunity to actually see one then they may hear the bellows of the males in search of a mate.

American Alligator

Along with the vast amount of wildlife in the refuge there are also many different habitats. There are areas of brackish or salt water, freshwater lagoons and ponds, marshes, and coastal hardwood forests.

hardwood forest

hardwood forest

These hardwood forests are one of the main storm surge protectants.

fishing in the bayou

The freshwater areas offer a variety of edible fish.

Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, New Orleans, Louisiana

For more information on this beautiful refuge you can visit here.