Saturday, June 13, 2015

Oddities and Peculiaria: Sideshow Shenanigans in the Big Easy with Michael de Meng; Day One and Two

Once again I am in the Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana, for a workshop with my mentor assemblage artist, Michael de Ming.  The workshop is once again organized by Katherine Engen and this year we have the theme of Oddities and Peculiaria or side show freaks.

In an attempt to prove that I have officially crossed over to elderly, I am going to take about my illnesses.  The entire week prior to leaving for this trip I had bronchitis and I had it bad.  I still have a lingering bit of it and on occasion sound tubercular.  No one wants to sit with me. 

Sunday, January 25

My day begins with cold and wind in Milwaukee with a light snowfall.  Getting to the airport and getting on the plane is no problem.  However, at our appointed time to leave we are backed out of the gate and left on the tarmac for one hour.  During the one hour we are de-iced at least three times with the last one being called a "level four" attempt.  This does not instill a lot of confidence in me when we actually do take off but I am typing this so you know we did not crash and burn.

In typical fashion for flying out of Milwaukee since we lost our hub, I have to fly to Atlanta then on to New Orleans.  We did make up one half hour in the air after the delay so I did have plenty of time to make my connection in Atlanta.

NOLA being a tourist town, it is super easy and cheap to get a hotel shuttle to our workshop hotel, the Hotel St. Marie on Toulouse Street, one block off Bourbon in the French Quarter.  In previous years we had stayed at the Sheraton Four Points which is on Bourbon but Katherine has us trying a new hotel (for us) which is an old (for NOLA) hotel for the workshop.  My room is small in an old hotel traditional sense but how much room does one guy need who is not going to be in his room anyway?

My personal goal today is to get to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art which I have visited before.  Today is the last day of their exhibition entitled Prospect.3.  It includes a number of different presentations but the big one is Basquiat and the Bayou.  Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of those artists whose work makes me wonder if he only famous because he wanted to be famous.  His art does little for me but his exhibition at this museum was sold out for the day.  I snuck into the exhibit but I have to admit I was underwhelmed. 

The rest of the exhibitions in the Ogden proved to be more to my taste including a great deal of photography.  Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick's photography documents the still existing plantation style prison system in Louisiana's Angola Prison.  Self-taught artist Herbert Singleton's work was very interesting especially because at one point he was an inmate in Angola.

The Ogden has material housed in The Gasperi Collection with is self-taught, outsider and visionary art.  This portion of the museum proved interesting.  The Gasperi Gallery was an old New Orleans institution that focused on self-taught art of the South. 

Then it was time for a walk about back to the hotel.

Sunday night was an unofficial first dinner at the Gumbo Shop for whomever was around. Here are a few friendly faces and it is great to see everyone again.   

Lynn, Deb and Kelley

I am still not feeling well so it was early to bed for me. 

Monday, January 26th

Today I was up at 8 for breakfast with Kelley and Lynn at The Grill.  

This is an old style counter space with African-American waiters in white livery.  It has the feel of an old dining car on a railroad.  The service can be spotty but it is always entertaining.  The food is grill food that is probably bad for you but who cares when it is served at The Grill.

Today was a day with no plans.  All we did was walk the French Quarter area and hit numerous shops of different types.  I did manage to buy a few finds for assemblage but I also needed to get a sweat shirt as it was too cold for the T-shirt I started out in.  

We walked from 9:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. when the ladies headed into the wig shop.  

That was my signal to return to the hotel to prepare for the day's main event. 

The Meet & Greet Mixer Dinner Party was held at the Vacherie located next door to the hotel.  The night began with greetings from Katherine Engen and Michael de Meng.  Our evening entertainment was Ri Dickulous who did a talk on the history of Cabinets of Curiosity and Side Shows. She then gave us a demonstration of sword swallowing.  Then we got a shot at the buffet dinner.

This year's attendees are Kelley Clark, KD (Kristy) Duncan, Lois Inman Engel, Kathy Gould, Renee Harper, Penny McDonald, Rob McDonald, Mary McVey, Bonnie Neustad, Lynn Ovenden, Deb Petronio, Sharon Ross, Karen Woodzell Rexrode, Sue Slattery, Beth Smith, Cris Smith, Vickie Tranche, Sue Urquhart, Marilyn West and Joanne Wotypka.  The dragged along spouses include Bob Gould (Kathy Gould’s husband), John Werst (Marilyn Werst's husband) and Bill Weber (Katherine Engen’s husband).

Again tonight, I was in bed early.  I cannot say I felt well at all and I am hoping that by actually getting some sleep I might feel better.

To view all the photos from this trip at once, visit


  1. I have that Elvis lamp...the one in your photo has a cooler shade...must see this museum sometime! I love southern folk art and have a small collection. What a great trip y'all had. Kathy Pinkerton

  2. I have that Elvis lamp...the one in your photo has a cooler shade...must see this museum sometime! I love southern folk art and have a small collection. What a great trip y'all had. Kathy Pinkerton

  3. Great pics and commentary, Gary. Thanks for sharing. J Werst