Jackson Square Artists

One of the most visited places in the USA is Jackson Square, the center of the old city of New Orleans. It's named Jackson Square for the iconic statue of Major General Andrew Jackson that sits in the middle of the square. The square was once a military parade ground with a gallows standing in the middle. In the mid 1850's the square was redone by the Barroness Michaela Almonaster Pontabla—another story for another day.  The center square has been a gathering point for people who live here and for visitors since the very beginning of settlements here back in 1718.

Now days people come to Jackson Square as a "not to be missed" part of their visit to New Orleans. It's important to get a Beignet at Cafe Du Monde, admire the buildings and shops around the square, listen to a street band, get a "reading", and look at all the incredible art for sale. There are about 200 artists that make their life selling art at Jackson Square. Some have been out here their whole life, while some have just arrived. The city issues 200 permits a year for about 90 spaces along the fence of the square, its a first come first serve sort of deal. Mid-week you may not see the fence completely full, but come the weekends during the busy season the fence is packed with talent. 

Typically an artist spends a couple days a week painting and the rest of the days outside "on the fence" selling their work and talking to tourists . The days can start early, on busy weekends they may need to arrive at 4am just to get a spot!  Being an artist on the square is a lot harder than it first appears as it is long hours and lots of inclement weather. Its rewarding to be able to pursue your artist vision and still make a living and this is what drives everyone out there to stay with it. Much like the incredible volume of musical talent in New Orleans, we also have amazing visual artists that can give you a hand made piece of New Orleans to take home with you. Please don't come all the way to New Orleans to visit and marvel at our food, music, art and fun options and go home with a trinket made in China!  

The artists are not always in the same spot, so if you saw something you like and you went back to find it later you may have to work all the way around the fence to find it again. Everyone knows everyone out there though so feel free to ask another artist and they can probably help you out.  Jackson Square has been an art scene since the 1920's back in those days many painters and artists lived in the French Quarter. For years, until pretty recently actually, it was a very inexpensive place to live and that is why artists flocked here. William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Degas, John Audubon, James Michalopoulos and John McGrady all lived and worked in the French Quarter.  Now its extremely pricey and most of the artists can no longer afford to live downtown and walk to work. Thankfully they make the trek to downtown daily though and you can still see their beautiful work and take some home with you.

Cities of the Dead

One of the most popular things to see in New Orleans is certainly the above ground Cemeteries. There are a total of 47 above ground cemeteries around the greater New Orleans area, so there is plenty to visit if that is your thing.  We used to bury people in the ground in the early days, but that didn't work out so well and in 1789 we established the first above ground cemetery in New Orleans St. Louis Cemetery #1. 

   This is a Catholic Cemetery as most of the early residents of New Orleans were Catholics. We still have a large population of Catholics here. There were several burial grounds in the French Quarter prior to building the cemetery, now one of them is a block covered in houses! One of the most haunted blocks in the French Quarter, no doubt!  St. Louis Cemetery #1 is still an active cemetery with burials every 10 days or so on average. When you take a tour through the cemetery you will notice many many abandoned tombs, however because a lot of the early families are no longer here in New Orleans.

   St. Louis Cemetery #1 used to have many many colored tombs, now you will find just a few that aren't white washed. Because the  French Quarter was a predominately Creole neighborhood with many colorful houses, the cemetery looked very much the same.  There are thousands upon thousands of people buried inside the walls of this cemetery and their personal stories will help you to understand the history of New Orleans.  The reasons you probably came to visit New Orleans have their roots inside these old cemeteries. Be sure you take the time to come visit. 

This beautiful photo is of a tomb we refer to as the Faux Laveau. It was taken by a guest that was on a tour this week. Her name is Emily Bauman. Thank you Emily for sending the fabulous photos! 

St. Josephs Day

   Traditions in New Orleans run deep. This past weekend we celebrated two of them St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day. New Orleans has long been Catholic and many of the cities most beloved traditions stem from that fact. The first settlers here, the French , were Catholics, then the Spanish were next, also Catholic. As a result everyone was baptized Catholic, including all the slaves brought here from Africa. Incredible that the people buying slaves and loading up ships would go through the exercise of bringing along a priest to make sure everyone was baptized. Ironic that there was so much interest in the afterlife when you were treated like chattel while on Earth.  

   St. Joseph provided relief from famine to people in Sicily and has been a day of celebration here in New Orleans since the Sicilians settled here in the mid 1800's. Most catholic church's in the area and many Italian or Sicilian business put up St. Joseph's altars. The altars are covered in traditional foods for the feast. Breads shaped in crucifixes and animal shapes, many special cookies and antipasta and cakes. You are invited to visit the altars around town and receive a small bag containing cookies and bread and a prayer card for St. Joseph.  The Sicilian mama's have obviously spent days and days baking all the cookies to give out to the visitors who come.  I've heard this day is celebrated more in New Orleans than in Sicily itself!

   There are parades of course. The Irish and Italians parade together for this feast day. The other major event that happens on this day is the Mardi Gras Indians come out. They only come out twice a year, Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph's Day.  There is music and dancing and the showing of the hand beaded suits that take all year to sew. Every year a new suit is made and only worn on these two days. This tradition of masking like Indians is a way to honor the Indians who harbored the slaves back in the slave owning days. There are many different Black Indians or Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans. They got the name Mardi gras Indians because of the day that they first come out and display their new suits is Mardi Gras Day. 

St. Patricks Day

Happy Saint Patricks Day everyone. I know this seems like just another New Orleans excuse to party and no doubt we have plenty of those.  Mardi Gras just ended 2 short weeks ago and although we are in the middle of Lent and many of us have at least tried to give up drinking and meat on Fridays, St. Patrick has provided a convenient reason to pause all of that.  THe Archbishop of New Orleans actually gave everyone permission to eat meat today, I thought that was very nice of him.  Fridays during Lent  you can find many a fish fry and crawfish boil usually at your neighborhood Catholic Church. 

New Orleans has always been a Catholic town, beginning with the first French settlers, but did you know we actually have the largest Catholic Irish population in the South? Irish immigration started in New Orleans in about 1810, but many Irish came in the 1830's to build canals. They were considered "expendable" labor. Indeed somewhere around 8,000 Irish men perished in the building of one canal in New Orleans. The Irish that settled in New Orleans were predominately Catholics and occupied a neighborhood which is now referred to as the Irish Channel. 

You know in New Orleans we love a parade and for St. Patrick's Day there are many. We begin a week or two before hand with a practice parade with the Irish Channel St. Pats day club. Its important to practice walking and drinking at the same time in case you forget how! Then a week before St. Pat's day there is the Irish Channel Parade with many marching bands, walking groups and floats. The floats throw you everything you need to make Irish stew except the meat, so watch yourself, cabbages are flying right at your head! You can also catch many other food items, Irish Spring soap, beads, flowers and hats! On St. Patrick's day itself there are numerous block parties held at Irish pubs throughout town. There are also walking and float parades the weekend of St. Pat's day.  

After all the festivities we can go back to focusing on our abstinence for Lent for a day or so until St. Joseph's day ( March 19). That will be the subject of a whole other blog post however.