Updated: Jun 8, 2019
New Orleans is a unique American city that may be best known for neighborhoods like the French Quarter, annual events like the New Orleans Jazz Festival, its food and drink and its hard-luck sports teams like the Saints.
The city’s rich load of activities makes it easy to overlook many other fine assets, that are must-sees, like the New Orleans Museum of Art, the city’s oldest fine arts museum. It is located within City Park, a short distance from the intersection of Carrollton Avenue and Esplanade Avenue, and near the terminus of the "Canal Street - City Park" streetcar line. The museum houses a permanent collection with more than 40,000 objects and is noted for its French and American art, along with photography, glass and Japanese works. The garden is home to more than 60 sculptures valued collectively at $25 million, including a giant spider by Louise Bourgeois.
These incredible works of art are nestled along meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons and 200-year-old live oaks. Best of all, admission to the sculpture garden is free.
As a dog person, my favorites were the dog sculptures contained in the five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, an attraction outside the museum that is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention (like we did the first time). The dog sculptures are the work of George Rodrigue, a Cajun artist originally from New Iberia, La., who in the late 1960s began painting Louisiana landscapes, followed soon after by outdoor family gatherings. He is most known as the artist who transformed the image of Louisiana's loup-garou, a mythical half-dog and half-man or werewolf, ghost dog, into a pop art icon. He took the legend of the Cajun werewolf and transformed it into instantly recognizable portraits of quizzical dogs (mostly cobalt-colored ones) framed by different landscapes. Rodrigue died in 2013 at the age of 69. In a statement on his website, Rodrigue's family said the artist's intent was always "to paint Louisiana as he knew it by visually interpreting the landscape and the rich history of the Cajun people." Rodrigue died in 2013 at the age of 69.
“The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog,” Mr. Rodrigue told New York Times reporter Rick Bragg in 1998. "He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.”
Rodrigue told Bragg that once people have seen a Blue Dog painting, they always remember it:
“They are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you. And you’re looking at him, looking for some answers, ‘Why are we here?’ and he’s just looking back at you, wondering the same. The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
All dogs, I think, have that same look. That’s why we love these four-legged critters, even when they commit an indiscretion on the living room rug.
Images of Rodrigue’s Blue Dogs can be seen throughout the Crescent City. The entrance to the city’s Intercontinental Hotel downtown is a fabulous dog pound of Blue Dog paintings. But the larger-than-life Blue Dogs at the sculpture garden are my kind of puppies – big, bold, and expressive.
As is often said about good dogs in the South, these dogs can hunt.
Tommy Barton blogs about travel and food and is the retired editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News.