Earlier this month, the Knoxville Museum of Art arranged a trip to New Orleans for 32 Knoxville art lovers. The outing, offered through the museum’s so-called “Collectors Circle,” was a whirlwind three-night stay that offered the opportunity to visit two artists’ homes, two very different museums, as well as the home of a collector, and a plethora of eateries where we consumed about a month’s worth of calories (but who cares?).
Let’s talk about the two amazing artists and their very different homes first. Hunt Slonem may be familiar to Knoxville Museum of Art members because the museum owns two of his large paintings of parrots. Slonem also was the featured artist in 2012 of the museum’s major fundraising art auction, L’Amour du Vin. (Click here for a story about his visit to Blackberry Farm that weekend.)
A two-hour drive out of New Orleans is Slonem’s historic 16,000-square-foot sugarcane plantation, Albania, built during the years 1837 to 1842. It is near the town of Jeanerette in St. Mary Parish. Although Slonem was not present for our visit, he generously opened his home (one of three mansions he owns) and sent his property manager, Butch Bailey, to show us around.
Being on the grounds of Albania – and later at another artist’s abode in the famous Lower Ninth Ward — gives one that kind of spooky, seductive New Orleans feel that is hard to describe and harder to shake. With that jazzy, sexy vibe, it’s easy to see why the area produces so many artists of every kind. For his part, Slonem obviously felt the same thing because he said the moment he saw Albania, he said to himself, “I have to have it,” although it was in a state of disrepair and he hadn’t even laid eyes on the inside of it.
(Click here for a story on the history of Albania.)
We were asked not to post photos of the interior of Albania on the Internet (drat!), but I’ll tell you it is chock full of antiques and every wall is covered floor-to-ceiling with art, that of Slonem himself mixed in with historic portraits, which he collects. “The thing about Hunt,” our guide Bailey said, “is that his passion is collecting and collecting and collecting!” (Another Slonem collection we were shown: top hats!)
It was at Albania where we were served the best meal of the trip, in my opinion. I’ll put up a post just about the food from the trip in a few days.
Watching everyone strolling around near the bayou, I mentioned to one of our luncheon servers my extreme fear of snakes. “Ma’am, there are more things that can kill you in Louisiana than anywhere else,” he said nonchalantly. Comforting.
Soon, with a little buzz on from the mimosas and the wine served at lunch, it was time to re-board our coach for the ride back to New Orleans and a trip to the Ninth Ward shotgun house and studio of artist Gina Phillips.
Talks are under way to possibly bring Gina Phillips and an exhibit of her work to the Knoxville Museum of Art. I hope that works out.
Coming up: A tale of two New Orleans museums with very different approaches to collecting and a look at how that relates to what we are doing with our museum here in Knoxville. Also coming up: Eating New Orleans!