Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Judy Chicago was one of the artists brought to Shreveport by At-the-Loft people

In Feb, 07, artist Michael Harold wrote, "It's great to see that you are putting together an At-the-Loft blog and to hear that Diane Dufilho is doing a history of art in Shreveport. I read the contributions from the artists that you have posted. The list of names includes some of my favorite artists. Not favorite Shreveport artists. Favorite artists, period.

The artists in this group are a big part of the reason I do art. In the early 70s, I would take a bus to the Craft Alliance on Dalzell Street to see these artists. Remember, it was late 60s, early 70s and the U.S. was in the middle of a high renaissance where art and culture was concerned. (Wars always bring out the best in artists, I think. I know that during the past six years I've done some of my best work ever. Mostly writing, though.) Even here in Shreveport, when they were not busy smoking dope, having sex and being routed out of various public parks by George D'Artois, the young people were walking around with Burroughs, Kerouac, Heller, Vonnegut, Plath, Beckett and Pynchon in their backpacks and listening to Hendrix, Zeppelin, The Doors, etc. Visual art was no different. Everyone with an interest in visual art was exposed to Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Body Art, Happenings, Environmental Art, and all the other art isms of the period. The older artists in Shreveport, especially the ones you mention, were fully aware of the larger cultural currents. Clyde Connell with her "church" and "ladder" and "reliquary" sculptures made of paper mache, hammered nails, stones and found objects. Talk about hidden (or not so hidden) meanings related to slavery, poverty, education, religion and judicial injustice. There were David Horner's and Jerry Slack's installations. There was Lucille Reed's minimalism.

These people were amazing. I followed them from Dalzell to the Craft Alliance at Centenary (now the Turner Art Center), to the Craft Alliance on Stoner (later renamed the Stoner Art Center).

And then there was At-the-Loft.

There are a couple of people in town who should be able to provide a wealth of information on the contemporary art scene in the area from the 70s to the present. I spoke with Jim Huckabay recently and his memory of the early Craft Alliance was much better than mine. Bruce Allen was an insider on all of this stuff from the mid-80s onward. Kitty Kavanaugh, a Director of the Stoner Arts Center, if you can locate her, would be a great resource. There were a lot of potters, jewelers, fabric and mixed media artists who were in the thick of it as well. Bruce would remember. And an oral history from all of the artists that have surfaced in your blog would be essential to any real understanding of the contemporary art in this area from the late 50s to the present.

You've mentioned everyone I remember. Just off the top of my head we have Janet Parker, Nevelyn Brown, Tama Nathan, Berk Bourne, Clyde Connell, Lucille Reed, Lynn Gautier and Gwen Norsworthy. I also seem to remember that there were some younger artists who had studios there at one time or another. I don't always trust my memory but I was looking for Ellen Soffer and Laura Noland in the list and didn't see them.

It doesn't stop there. There has been continuity from the beginning. The At-the-Loft artists were the same people who brought Judy Chicago and Alan Sondheim to Shreveport. They invited artists like me and Bruce to put installations in the space (which was a very big deal to me). They participated with other groups such as the Artist's Transit, the Princess Park Works-In-Progress group, SRAC's public sculpture projects, the Red River Revel, the Eye-20 group and lots of others. And they set the example, especially the women. Donna Service (and her partner Donna Moore), exhibited the same type of no holds barred artistic guts as the At-the-Loft artists. Dorothy Hanna, too. Thank god for the women artists in this town is all I've got to say. Many of the younger artists in the area (Allison Dickson comes to mind) are part of this larger work-in-progress. There is a lot of continuity here.

Then there are the artists from the other half of North Louisiana, the artists of color. They don't show up in these narratives, even though many of them achieved as much in terms of their art as any of the other artists in the area. I know. I have seen it.