24.11.13

The Labat Project was initiated by Lori K. Gordon in 2000, when she began conducting an oral history with Celestine Labat of Bay St. Louis, MS.  Ms. Labat was 102 at the time and over the course of two years, she shared her life story with Gordon. She also loaned Gordon her family photo albums and from those interviews and images, the Labat Project was launched.

The project is an intensive look into the history of the Creole culture of coastal Mississippi. It explores the lives of members of the Labat family, as well as other Creoles in coastal communities; families with the names of Piernas, Rabateau, Saucier, Cospelich and Barabino. The first stage of the project, an 8’ x 10’ art quilt titled “Labat: A Creole Legacy” was completed in 2003, and has been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for inclusion in their permanent collection. In 2011, Gordon teamed with the Katrina Research Center at the University of Southern Mississippi to present the second phase of the project. The project was made possible by a generous grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council and the support of the University of Southern Mississippi, especially the efforts of Project Director Dr. Deanne Nuwer, Associate Professor of History at USM, and Ms. Shugana Williams, Research Consultant/Librarian. Additional support has been provided by the Six Degrees Consortium. This second phase of the Labat Project constitutes a traveling exhibit of eighteen panels, each of which displays images from the Labat family archives and portions of Celestine Labat's oral history.  


For more information on The Labat Project including venues, dates and how to bring the exhibition to your community, please contact Lori Gordon at lorikgordon@gmail.com.

18.12.12

Opening presentation of The Labat Project at New Orleans African American Museum, December 15, 2012.

10.12.12

The Labat Project will be on exhibit at New Orleans African American Museum, 1418 Gov. Nicholls Street, through December 26. An opening reception for the exhibit will take place at the museum from 3-5 PM on Saturday, December 15. The public is invited to attend at no charge.

24.5.12

Opening reception for The Labat Project at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Gautier campus:

Noon on Thursday, June 21, 2012

4.5.12

THE LABAT PROJECT VENUES AND DATES:


Harrison County Library System, Biloxi Branch:
through May 2012


Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Gautier campus: June 1-July 31.
Opening Reception/Presentation: Thursday June 21, noon.


Katrina Research Center, University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park, Long Beach, MS: August-September 2012.


New Orleans African American Museum, 1418 Gov. Nichols Street, New Orleans, LA: October 2012.



May 3, 2012


The Labat Project opened to a full house at the East Biloxi branch of the Harrison County Library System. Access these links for reports by the Sun Herald and WLOX.

13.2.12

Premiere Presentation of The Labat Project

On Monday, February 6, The Labat Project opened to an audience of over 100 people at the Bay St. Louis branch of the Hancock County Library System. The following photos were taken by Ms. Shugana Williams of the University of Southern Mississippi; my thanks to Shugana and to the wonderful folks at the library, and especially to all of the people who made the evening such a success by their presence. -Lori Gordon
 Labat family members
 opening presentation


The Labat Project

14.12.11

The following images are part of The Labat Project, and portions of Celestine Labat's oral history may be read by scrolling down to the end of the images.
    Labat family members


                     Sylvia Labat

 Josephine Saucier Rabateau


 Joseph Labat


 Johnnie Labat


 Inez Labat


 Henry Dedeaux


 Football Team (Pierre Graves, Victor Labat, Jim Reed)


 Fabian and Lucien Labat


 Alvin Labat in France


 James Richmond Barthe


 Celestine Labat, First Communion


 Celestine Labat, 8th grade graduation


 Celestine Lanaux Labat


 Clothilde Cospelich


 Elise Labat and friend


Emily Barabino
Father Henry LeDuc


Leonora Lanaux Labat


Louis Piernas Jr.


Louie Piernas' Niece


Mabel Ishem


Miss Le Fille


Joseph and Veronica Labat


Pierre Graves


Johnnie Labat


St. Rose de Lima School, 301 Second Street, Bay St. Louis


Sumner Labat


Victor Labat


Portia Labat
Louie Piernas Sr.


Lucien Labat at St. Emma's


Emily and Mabel Ishem

13.12.11

307 Easterbrook Street, Bay St. Louis, MS.
When Joseph Labat purchased this house as a young man, it had three rooms and a detached kitchen.
Twelve of the thirteen Labat children were born in this house.
    ORAL HISTORY with CELESTINE LABAT (1898-2002)

     They’re all gone now, most of them, the old Creoles-Veronica and I are the only ones left, from my father’s generation. The Creoles faded away because in most cases, a Creole would only marry another Creole. There were several pioneer Creole families in Bay St. Louis, and some of them were the Labats, the Barabinos, the Trudeaus, and the Piernas'.  Mr. Louie Piernas, he was the first black postmaster here. He was a Republican and he paid his poll taxes, so he could vote. My father paid his poll taxes too, and they might have been the only Creoles in Bay St. Louis who could vote at that time.  I remember how I used to see Mr. Louie walking down the street, he walked briskly, with a cane and a derby hat and a long frock coat   and he was always friendly. He was a distinguished looking man, and I would say that he was the most educated, he wasn’t wealthy but he had more money than anyone else around here. I remember him and his wife, sitting on their front porch after dinner. They would sit there like statues, not talking, just sitting there in their straight chairs.
    Mr. Louie Piernas’ wife’s name was Anastasia, I think, she was a Barabino. He called his wife La Fille, which means the girl.  Miss La Fille was very Creole, she spoke only French, and she had a beautiful camellia bush in her front yard. She sold the camellias to the people on the excursion trains. She would poke holes in a big Irish potato, and she’d stick the flowers in the holes so they would stay moist and she would give them to some of the boys, the youngsters in the neighborhood.  They would take them to the train and shout camellias, camellias! One day as a little girl I passed by Miss La Fille’s when she was out by the camellia bush and I said, Miss La Fille, give me a camellia, and she said, very emphatically, no! And I said to her Miss La Fille, you so stingy! And then she genuflected, and that black skirt went up and she said tant pis! That means I don’t care and she really didn’t care.     
    See those blue and white dishes in the cabinet? They were Miss La Fille’s wedding dishes, and she sold them to my sister Inez. This was during the Depression, she needed the money and knew Inez would take care of them. I can remember the first time I ever saw Miss LeFille’s dishes used; it was when Mr. James Weldon Johnson came here for dinner. We lost the key to this cabinet around 1940 I think, and I haven’t been able to open it since then.  I sure would like to get in there and dust those dishes.     
    The Creole community was in this area, and the part of town across the tracks, past the train depot and Sycamore and Washington Streets, we called that “back ‘a town”. My father called the people who lived over there Americans, with the accent on the last syllable that was pronounced like can, like a can of soup. They were a different group of people, and my father used to tell me that I wasn’t a Creole, because I didn’t drink wine or coffee; he said that I was an American, just an old American. We never really had racial segregation in the neighborhoods, even over back ‘a town. The Catholics and the Creoles lived this side of the tracks, and the Americans lived back ‘a town. The most distinct example of racial prejudice in those days that I remember was within the Catholic Church.
    Our Lady of the Gulf was integrated, but the white parishioners sat in the central pews and the colored sections were the narrow aisles on on the side. These pews were rented to members of the black community.  So there was segregation within the church, but it made a difference who happened to be in power in Our Lady at any given time, too. For instance, there was a Father Henry LeDuc, he was the priest that married my father and mother and when they first started having children, he told them not to speak Creole in front of us because it would hamper our learning. So they never did, unless they were saying something that they did not want us to hear. Then there was a Father Pendergast who cared for blacks, and he appreciated the contributions that the black community made to the church.  There were other white people who didn’t like his concern for us though, and when plans were started to build St. Rose he protested, so they got rid of him. After he left, I didn’t enjoy Mass anymore. 
       All of the Creole families around here had mixed colors in their families, some light people and some dark-skinned people, some white-looking and some colored, and they didn’t always stay around here or even if they did, some of them would still pass as white, what we called passé blanc.  I know plenty of people around here that passed as white.  If they couldn’t be white in the town they were born in, they would go off to California, or Chicago or New York someplace, and they would live as white. Sometimes it would happen that you would be put in a passé blanc position even if you hadn’t intended it, if you were white-looking’ enough.  For instance, my mother used to take the train to New Orleans and a couple of times she took Sis when she was little, and the conductor would put them in the white coach. One time when that happened, my mother saw a colored man she knew from Bay St. Louis who was passing for white, and another time she was in that same car and she saw our white neighbor from right across the street, but he never said anything.  Still, when my mother and Veronica got off that train she had to tell him that she hadn’t asked for them to be seated  in  that whites-only  car.
  My father’s father came to the United States from Martinique. His name was Joseph Labat, he was a big black man, and he bought the freedom of a slave in Convent, Louisiana and married her. They had five children in Convent, and they had five more here. I don’t really know very much about my grandmother, except that she was born in Convent, she was a Lanaux, and I was named after her.  She was a light skinned woman, and her children were all mixed colors, from light to dark brown. Like most Creoles, they isolated themselves because they thought they were above other people. The prejudice was both racial and religious; if you were a Creole, you were supposed to marry Catholic and marry Creole and I guess that’s why some of my sisters never had any husbands and why I don’t have a husband.  But my father was brown and my mother was very light skinned, especially when she was younger, and they had children of all colors, black, white and in-betweens.  
    Inez was my oldest sister, and she lifted us out of poverty with her salary as an educator. She was very generous, and she always spoke her own mind. Inez hated prejudice and segregation, and she didn’t care who knew it. She used to go to St. Louis Cathedral in the Quarter, and she had to sit in the back of the church. Once she decided to go upstairs and sit with the choir, but when she started up, an usher pulled her back.  She resisted and told him, go say your prayers, and she went up anyway. 
    Inez looked Indian and my sister Sylvia looked Mexican; she was a beautiful brown color.  In fact, Sylvia used to pass for a Mexican; if she wanted to go around in the French Quarter, she’d put on these big earrings and a lot of beads,  as if to say I’m Mexican and she would be able to eat in white restaurants and go wherever she wanted. When Sylvia was going to Xavier Prep, she was the hostess for distinguished black people who would come to Xavier or to Dillard University. Sylvia used to take some of those guests to the French Quarter and if they were light skinned and if they were willing, they would both passé blanc, and they would eat wherever they wanted to.     
     My father was such a good man, he was homey and nice and very Catholic. I always knew my father loved me, because when I had been away and I would come home, he would hug me and kiss me on the forehead and on both cheeks, and he would cry. I was in California when he got sick but I got here before he died, and when I got here he saw me and I leaned over to kiss him and he hugged me so hard that I thought I was going to pass out if he didn’t let go of me.  He called me “Tine”; he was the only one who ever called me that.   
    My father had four sisters who lived over by where the Yacht Club is now.  When we visited, we used to like to catch those little bayou crabs, we called them touloulous; I don’t know what their real name is. We would go in the water and when we came out we would be hungry and they would always have something for us to eat. Those aunts of ours had a pier with a bathhouse on the end and we would go crabbing but the blue crabs we would catch were small and thin, they weren’t good fat crabs. They would use them anyway and make us gumbo but it wasn’t very good. Anytime we saw small crabs like that, we would call them Aunt Mary’s crabs. My aunts used to all talk at once and they only spoke Creole and sometimes they would sound just like the cackling chickens they had in the yard.    
    My mother was born here too, but I can’t figure out where she lived, and I can’t figure out where she learned to read and write; I don’t think they had any schools. My mother was a Creole too, and her mother had five beautiful daughters. The man who fathered them, I don’t guess he could marry her, because he was a white Creole and she was a black Creole. My mother’s mother was part Choctaw, and she lived with the Choctaws.  My mother had high cheekbones and hair like an Indian, but my grandmother didn’t look like an Indian, she had more Negroid features.  My sister Inez looked like an Indian though, she had a different kind of hair.  Sis was the fairest, and Sylvia was a beautiful brown, and my other sisters Portia, Johnnie and Elise fell someplace in between. I remember once a guest we had for dinner toasted my father and said, all of your daughters are beautiful, but Johnnie is your masterpiece! 
    I had four brothers, and they were all different colors also; there was Sumner and Fabian, Lucien and Victor. We all had friends of different colors too; my mother and father didn’t have any prejudices about color, but they did about religion, and they wanted all of us to marry Catholics. When we were children, we would play games and pretend that we were rich white people we had heard my parents talking about.  I suppose that  children today still play it, but by the time it got down to my nephew’s children, they weren’t using the names of white people anymore; they selected names of black people, but they were black people with money, so I guess that part hasn’t changed.  The thing we ate the most when we were growing up was gumbo. We would put chickens in it, or whatever my father had gotten hunting, and we made seafood gumbo too, with the fish and crabs we would catch. The other thing I remember eating a lot was oysters. There was an oyster shop on the corner of Toulme and St. John and my mother used to send me over there with a quarter and a bucket, and he’d fill that bucket  three quarters full for a quarter. Food was cheap then, and my mother knew how to stretch food.  In our house on Sundays we had gumbo, and duck or maybe roast or chicken. My father always used to say that if there wasn’t any gumbo, it just wasn’t Sunday, and I also remember that he would  say  that  about Christmas, too. 
    When he was a young man, my father bought this house for thirty five dollars, but it only had three rooms and a detached kitchen.  There was a red brick walk that led back to the kitchen, it was like slave quarters, and we had a walk in pantry.  Later, my father added the three back rooms; he said that he was tired of seeing half-naked teenagers running around.  There were three or four iron beds in our room, and we sisters slept two to a bed. All the beds had mosquito netting, what we used to call mosquito rods. He built a room out back too, in the building that had been a stable, for my brothers.   I stayed in the house for Camille and I also stayed in the house during the 1915 hurricane, and I think that one may have been even worse than Camille. I was 17 years old then and that was my first hurricane.  
    I never did know much about my grandfather, my mother’s father.  He was a white Creole, and I don’t know if he just abandoned my grandmother and her children, or if he took care of them. I do know that later on, he married a white woman. That whole situation was hush hush; they never did talk about it. You know, back then whites and coloreds couldn’t marry, it was against the law. So even if he had wanted to marry my grandmother, he couldn’t.  People knew about those relationships, though; there was an area of town that we called Bunker Hill, it was over there where McDonald Street is now, and there were white men living with black women. Some white people tried to sever those mixed-race relationships, and sent the policemen after them. I remember there was this one white man living with his woman over there, and the police went and told him he had to discontinue the relationship and stop living with her and he got his shotgun out there on the porch and he dared those policemen to come after him!  I guess he loved that woman, all right.      
    Do you know how I met my Grandfather, that white Creole?  I was playing in front of the house with my cousin one day, I must have been nine or ten and she whispered in my ear look at your grandfather and I looked and he was staring at me, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t smile, he was just staring and he had these blue eyes, real blue and this white hair, and he just stared at me.  Then he turned around and walked away, and that’s the only time I can ever remember seeing him.    
    There used to be balls at the Promote Hall for members of the black community.  We all used to dance a lot, and my brother Sumner’s band used to play at those balls. I was very young, and I had a boyfriend who used to take me to the balls and I enjoyed it so much, I never wanted to go home. That’s what I remember so well about those days, how the people loved music and loved to dance.  My father would go and dance all night, but my mother didn’t like to go.  My father was a good dancer and he used to win prizes.  People would tease my mother, saying Joe sure had a good time at the ball last night. Some of those young ladies are going to take him away from you. She’d say well, they can take him as long as they take all these children and just leave me my baby.  It didn’t matter who the baby was at the time, either.   
    I was my mother’s fifth child and after I finished high school in Indiana, I taught in Vicksburg, Pearlington and the Bay. I went to college and got a bachelor’s degree in science at Howard University, and later I went to California and got   a master’s degree in education. Several of my siblings attended Xavier Prep, and when my brother Vic was there he was a very good athlete. Vic had two friends from the Bay, Pierre and Jim, who were also very good, and they called them the Three Musketeers. I knew them very well and for awhile I dated Pierre’s brother Joe.  But that Jim, he was a character.  We used to feed him and I remember once we had saved him some red beans and rice that we had made, and we heard him in the kitchen scraping’ the pot and Portia called to him now Jim, don’t you be eating those beans, it’s fast day and there’s meat in those beans.  Jim called back, Nan, I ain’t eating these beans fast, I’m eating them slow!  Jim used to call everyone cuz, it would be cuz this and cuz that. I remember something that happened once with all that cuz business. We had a white neighbor who lived across the street, his name was Placide but he had a black relative named Julien and he acknowledged Julien, but once when Placide was over here Jim was visiting too and Jim called him cuz and Placide said well I’ll be damned, it’s enough that Julien is kin to me!  
    There was a modest house next door to us, and a little black boy named Jimmy lived there with his mother. We went to school together and everyone called him Jimmy and his last name was Barthe, pronounced like hearth, but when he got famous he started pronouncing it Bar-tay and he didn’t want anyone, even his mother, to call him Jimmy.  My sister Portia was flip and sassy and Barthe liked her attitude, and Portia confronted him one day and said something smart about Barthe and he said; well you know I don’t mind you calling me Jimmy!  My sisters Inez, Sylvia and Portia visited Barthe after he finished art school and they said he was very poor, eating canned beans, and the soles on his shoes were flapping.  So Inez had his shoes fixed, and she gave him some change, it couldn’t have been much, but he never forgot it.  He wanted to thank her so he told her, sit down, I am going to do a bust of you and in the next room is that beautiful bronze bust he did of her.  Then he told my other sisters that he wanted to sketch them. That’s Barthe’s portrait of Portia on this wall and Sylvia’s portrait is over there. He was a great artist, and a good friend.  I can  still see  his sweet way of smiling. 
    There were a lot of religious holidays we celebrated when we were children, and they were the really important ones.  Lately, we’ve had 4th of July celebrations around here, but not when I was a child.  I don’t know why we didn’t celebrate the 4th of July, nobody in the community celebrated. I was never taught patriotism in school.  As a matter of fact, when I went to high school in Indianapolis, the first time they started playing the National Anthem, I had never heard it before and I didn’t stand up. Somebody came and pushed me and said stand up!  So patriotic holidays didn’t mean much to us, but the activities at Our Lady and Saint Rose did.   
    The seminary played a big part in our lives too. St. Augustine was originally located in Greenville, but it didn’t last long. They had white priests from Germany, and the students were all black. The Ku Klux Klan was strong up there and they didn’t like that, so they caused all sorts of trouble. It was decided to move the seminary here, where race relations were better. The students from the seminary used to like to come here. It happened more than once that some seminarians would be here without permission and they would hear some priests coming for a visit and by the time the priests got in the front door, the students had disappeared out the back.   
    We had some religious organizations that were formed to assist members of the black community.  My father was one of the founders of the Knights of Peter Clavier; that was formed because blacks couldn’t join the Knights of Columbus. You paid a monthly fee and if you got sick they paid the doctor’s fee or if you died they buried you. The white groups and the black groups didn’t interact, and it could be that the whites didn’t have as many as the blacks did, I’m not sure.   
    My mother’s mother became a Baptist; she left the Catholic Church when she became angry about the treatment of blacks, especially after the time she had gone to Lucien and Portia’s communion rites at Our Lady of the Gulf. My grandmother had to sit in the back while all the white children received communion, and only then did the black children get communion.  So she left the church and never went back. The Baptists were prejudiced too but at least they had a segregated church, and she didn’t have to sit behind white people. 
    When I was young, race relations were generally better here than they were further north, on account of the French influence on the coast. The French didn’t have prejudices about mixing with the natives that were here, and later that same attitude resulted in relationships with people of African descent too. That’s how there came to be black Creoles and white Creoles.  Prejudice infected the area though, and it got to the point where if you had even a fraction of African blood you were considered black.  There were a lot of light-skinned negroes that had as much white blood as a white Creole, and it just depended on how you had started out, what the community thought of you and sometimes, it was how much you could get away with. I know a lot of people around here that passed as white.   
    The poor treatment of colored people wasn’t as bad here, but we had our share of it. For instance, we couldn’t swim on the beaches out on the Gulf, because that was a segregated area.  I remember one incident that happened during the civil rights agitation; a black woman had taken some of her children swimming in the Gulf and a policeman saw them. He shouted for her to get out of the water and she told him, come and get me! So there were those things, and of course the government was racist, and we were all affected by the attitudes of the officials.  I remember Governor Bilbo; he was a terrible segregationist, even worse than Wallace was.  He treated black people so badly that we called him Knocker, because he was always knocking colored people. We had a black and white dog that my mother named after him; I think there are some photos of that dog around.  
    We did have a few terrible things happen here that were on account of racism. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of Main and Toulme, and a black man named Albert Rabateau was working in the store. He was stocking shelves when a black lady came in. The white clerk, he didn’t give her enough change and she protested and Albert defended her. The next day the father of that white clerk came back into the store with a shotgun and he shot Albert in the back and he said to the witnesses, if the sheriff wants to talk to me he knows where to find me. Nothing ever happened to that white man, though. This happened in the early forties, and Albert was about my age.  He was married to a good friend of mine, Mabel Ishem, we went to school together, and she had a little baby who was only a few months old when Albert was killed by that man.  Albert’s son, his name is Albert too, is a professor at Princeton. He wrote two books, the first one was called  Slave Religion and the second one is Fire in the Bones.  I heard later that the white man who shot Albert, he went crazy, so maybe he couldn’t live with what he had done.  
    There were some cases, though, where white people went out of their way to help blacks. For instance, there was a black boy named Moses Singleton who was reared by a good white woman named Miss Jo Welch.  Miss Jo took him in, she had a room underneath her bookstore, she let him stay there and she took care of him. He used to ride a bicycle, and he ran errands for her. One day some men in the Ku Klux Klan wanted to harm him. He told her and she said come on, show me who you are talking about and she got her gun and found those men and she said, do you see this gun? And do you see this boy? If you do any harm to him I’m going to use this gun on you. So Moses grew up and married, and do you know who he married?  That woman out in the water with the children, the ones the policeman came after, and those children were his children and he named his daughter Josie, after Miss Jo Welch. 




Excerpts from Celestine Labat oral history, 2000-2002. Interview conducted by Lori K. Gordon in Bay St. Louis, MS.
                                                  
                                                                                                                            


                                                                  
                                                                  

11.10.06

Many friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the acquisition of the art quilt “Labat: A Creole Legacy” by the Smithsonian Institution. We were also celebrating the life of the person who inspired the work. The following is an article I wrote for a local newspaper on the occasion of the send-off party for the piece.

     Celestine Vivian “Teenie” Labat was a friend of mine for altogether too short of a time. She had blessed this planet with her presence for 102 years when I met her, and she brought grace to the next two years of my life. The things I learned from her about graciousness, dignity and the importance of a sense of humor will be with me for the rest of my days.
       Celestine was born into a world which few of us today can even imagine. As a Creole living in the Deep South, she and her family often found themselves caught between two worlds. Surrounded by a racist society which branded any person with African heritage as inferior, she lived amidst a family of exemplary individuals. Growing up during the time when women were not allowed the right to vote, Celestine expanded her horizons to get an advanced education, attaining both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Segregated by the church to which her family was devoted, she lived to see that church become a beacon in the Catholic community to persons of all colors.
     As I was getting to know this remarkable woman, she told me stories of her life. My experiences as a white girl growing up in South Dakota in no way prepared me for the stories which I was hearing. Celestine was a gifted storyteller and she soon had me seeing visions. I was in the yard with Celestine when, at the age of 8, she saw her white Creole grandfather staring at her. I watched along with her as her father, “Papa Joe”, won waltzing contests at the Promote Hall. I witnessed her sister Inez, an educator and principal in New Orleans, being made to sit in the back of the bus on her visits home.
     In this world, I helped Celestine to rake her yard, and I worked with her to clean the graves of her siblings. I was even privileged enough to be asked to help her make her famous pecan cake. She was no longer physically able to stir the batter, but she was plenty sharp enough to see that I was not sifting the flour correctly. I wrote letters to her and called her when I was out of town, and was happy every time I heard her say “hello” in that musical, lilting voice.
     Celestine was very proud of her family, and she loved to tell stories about them. As she wove her magic in words and began showing me the faces of her people, the idea for the art quilt was born. Over the next year, I recorded most of my visits with Celestine. She loaned me her family photograph albums and I scanned the photos into my computer. I manipulated the images with an arts program and transformed the old black and white photos into sepia tone images that resembled paintings. I kept many of the images clear so the persons could be easily identified. Others, I allowed to become obscure. I wanted to not only present her family, but also to suggest the many contemporaries and community members whose names are now forgotten. I wanted the piece to be not only a family history, but a cultural commentary as well.
     With the images in place on the quilt, I began selecting the stories I wanted to include. I created the cloth “pages” of text on my computer as well, and decided to arrange the text into five general areas. In one area I presented Celestine’s personal story, and in another I told her family stories. In the third area I told her stories about living with racism, and in the fourth I presented the important place that religion held in their lives. The fifth section of the collage centered on cultural stories. When these elements were in place, my remaining task was to come up with a painted design which would pull the whole piece together and provide a border. I chose an African mudcloth design to represent Celestine’s African and Choctaw heritage. Both of these cultures favored the use of strong geometric designs in their art.
      I finished the art quilt shortly before Celestine’s death. My good friend Ellis Anderson and Celestine’s great nephew Wesley helped me haul it into her bedroom. Ellis and I stood on chairs to hold it up for her to see. Celestine was thrilled with the work, and talked of how it was such a wonderful testament to her family. There was laughter and joy in that room, as well as a few tears shed. I made a promise to Celestine that day; I told her that I was going to do my best to see the art quilt end up in a public place, so that her story could be told.
     Celestine died less than two weeks later. Before her death, she told me that her great epiphany in life had happened to her in the twilight of her days on earth. She felt a deep satisfaction that the color of a person’s skin no longer meant what it had for many of the years of her life. She said that as a young person, she never would have dreamed of seeing the day when she would have so many friends of all races. I feel incredibly fortunate that she counted me as one of those friends.
     And so the stories of Celestine’s life will be traveling to their new home in our country’s national museum. As I looked around at the people who gathered to bid the art quilt farewell, I reflected upon how happy I was to be able to fulfill the promise I had made to her. I also felt a profound appreciation for the support and encouragement I had received from so many friends along the way. Without that support, I knew that there would not have been an occasion to celebrate. I know that Celestine would be joining me in expressing our thanks to all of you.

The Labat Project began with an invitation from a friend to attend a luncheon of the Hancock County Historical Society, where the speaker was to be a 102 year old woman. I attended the luncheon, and got my first sight of the most incredible human being I have ever met. Completely captivated by the grace, composure and presence of Ms. Celestine Labat, I went home and immediately began making phone calls in order to arrange an introduction. Later that week, I made what was to be the first of many visits to her family home.

As our friendship developed, Ms. Labat began telling me stories of her life, and graciously allowed me to take dozens of photographs. I began doing portraits of her in both pencil and acrylic, and I also started recording her stories on audio cassettes. After a time, Ms. Labat brought out her family photograph albums, and as I began putting the faces with the stories, the idea for “Labat, A Creole Legacy” was born.

Over the next year and a half, I continued taping Ms. Labat’s stories, and began the long process of transcribing the tapes. I scanned her photos into my computer, digitally manipulated them, and printed them out on specialty paper. The resulting images were then transferred to cloth, and each one was individually hand hemmed and hand sewn on to a backing cloth. The same process was used with selected stories, and the 274 pieces were then secured onto a canvas support which I painted with geometric designs that echo the artistic traditions of both African and Native American cultures. After 1300 hours of effort the collage came together with a finished size of 7 ½ x 9 ½ feet.

Film on the Work of Lori K. Gordon

This is a twenty minute film on the Work of Lori K. Gordon. It focuses on The Katrina Collection and The Labat Project.

10.10.06

Lori K Gordon: Selected Curriculum Vitae

Lori K. Gordon
lorikgordon@gmail.com   228.342.0877


Public/Private Collectors:
Smithsonian Institution, President Barrack Obama, President Jimmy Carter, University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Humanities Council, Safeco Corporate Collection,Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Kentucky, International Museum of Muslim Cultures, City of Bay St. Louis, Hancock County Library System.

Exhibits/Events:
2000-2011: Twenty eight solo exhibitions in states around the nation.
1997-2011: Exhibitor, sixty nine exhibitions in states around the nation.
2003-2011: Numerous public presentations/lectures in states around the nation on Labat Project, Katrina Collection, Six Degrees Series, and Collage as Art Form. Most recent: panelist during September 11 Tenth Anniversary Summit on Renewal in Washington, DC by Center for National Policy and Community and Regional Resilience Institute.
1980-2011: Instructor, collage workshops in states around the nation.
2004-2011: Organizer for art shows and related events in states around the nation.

Grants/Scholarships/Commissions/Awards:
Pollack-Krasner Foundation, Andy Warhol Foundation, Mississippi Arts Commission (5), Mississippi Humanities Council, Gottlieb Foundation, SouthernArtistry, Contemporary Art Center, State of Mississippi, Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity.

Media Features:
MSNBC, Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), National Public Radio, CBS, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Travel Mail (UK), Mississippi Public Broadcasting, various newspapers and magazines both regional and national, and several documentaries/television features.

Complete curriculum vitae is available upon request.