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New Orleans Ascending

The Story Behind This Work of Art

Julie Eshelman-Lee

Director, Creole West Productions

December 30, 2005

“Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst for New Orleans Ascending . No longer was I an onlooker into the past, this tragedy was absolutely personal. As each day passed, the realization crystallized as to the impact the damage had to a place that defined the very essence of whom I was and who many of us are. The continuity to the past, spanning almost three hundred years, had just been breeched simultaneously with failure of the levees. As a historian, I suddenly realized the luxury and comfort of re-stitching the past. Now unprecedented history was before us without the safety of rumination and contemplation of times of yore. The shining star of culture and joie de vire - the city of New Orleans - was forever changed, her layers of history and cultures were peeled away with the horrific winds and flooding. How does one express all of this?

A piece of music sparked the light to openly delve into the consequences of the tragedy, clearing a path for a vision of redemption and rebirth. Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams' timeless Lark Ascending was playing on a public radio station one morning. Its "effortlessly flowing yet subtle and highly concentrated rhapsody"( notes from R. Vaughan Williams. Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Neville Marriner , London Records) immediately gave me pause to stop what I was doing and immerse myself in the music. Vaughan Williams sparked a new Renaissance of English music at the turn of the 20th century, known for blending English folk song, hymnody and Elizabethan music with themes inspired by classical masters. Originally written in 1914, at the brink of World War I, it seemed to be composed for the immediate experiences of late summer 2005 along the Gulf Coast where what we had known for over three hundred years had changed forever.

Through sixteen minutes of this orchestral masterpiece the vision was born for the mural. Linda’s uncanny ability to transform my loose threads of thought and emotion about the tragedy, redemption and renaissance of New Orleans came together in this brilliant piece of art. Our masterpiece became focused on a dove, a fallen dove ascending over the curvature of the great Mississippi River with the sun radiating from the circular part of the dove’s neck and beak. We’ve titled it: New Orleans Ascending.

If you also have the opportunity to take in this piece of art with Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending eminating in the background, you, too, will fully experience what we have created. “

L.J.C. (Linda) Shimoda


December 30, 2005

“I first did a hand-drawn sketch of the bird, but using graphite rendered the line gray and not as dark as I wanted, so I scanned the sketch into the computer and converted the sketch line into a graphic element that I could convert to solid black. Funny, the day I was working on the sketch, I went for a jog and a zebra dove was unfortunately lying on the path, fallen. It had this twist to its body that I'd wanted to capture, so when I got home the sketch was altered to get the twist of the body and tail. But I wanted to make sure that the right wing, and then slowly the left wing were about to flutter open.

I decided on blues for the splotches, with a bit of aqua. I wanted the eye, heart and tail to be the dominant and truest blue, to show life. The splotches on the wings symbolize droplets of water, the medium from which the bird has fallen, so the different blues and greens are the water and the sky's reflection in it. And as the bird begins to flutter to fly, I imagine the droplets will fall away, as if a burden is washed away, and the bird can ascend. My thought was that the eye symbolized vision, the heart is soul, and the tail is drive or desire or direction. I wanted these elements to be strongest, showing that this is what it takes to soar once again.

We then decided to add the river and the sun, with the river being from where we've come, and the sun signifying the boundlessness of where (in our souls, not in land area) we can go. From an 1878 map of New Orleans and surrounds I traced the river exactly; it was as if that curve flowed around the tail and wings of the dove. I moved the river up to skirt the tail and dove body and was pleased how it flows through the other strokes. Then I thought of the sun and let it radiate from that circular part of the bird's beak and neck."

And with the last brush stroke New Orleans Ascending became a reality!