Filed Under:  Art, Arts & Culture, Food, Local, News

Native artisan to show at NOMA with a collection celebrating the 90th birthday of Chef Leah Chase

29th August 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
The Louisiana Weekly

The relationship between native artist Gustave Blache III and the legendary queen of Creole cuisine Leah Chase is that of two old friends; despite their (50-plus) year age difference. Perhaps it’s their artistic connection; a perfect mixture of visual and culinary art.

While sitting for the artist, she asks, “Are you making me look like Halle Berry?,” as her trademark smile spreads across her face.

Last Thursday afternoon, Blache stopped by the landmark restaurant to put the finishing touches on a series that shows all that goes into Dooky Chase’s fine cuisine; but in ways not often seen. Through his oil on wood paintings, he captures the essence of Leah Chase — from the best view: The view from her kitchen.

The McMain & NOCCA grad who now resides in New York, studied visual journalism in college; usually working on paintings that document process. So in Chase’s case, he studied and captured her cooking.

Blache depicts the icon in her element, preparing her famous dishes, with works entitled “Pouring Oysters, Cutting Squash and Stirring Pot.”

The artist couldn’t think of a more fitting gesture to honor the city’s culinary treasure.

“I felt that if I could show the public the behind-the-scenes aspect of the hard work that Mrs. Chase and her staff do for our enjoyment, then my ultimate goal for this series has been achieved,” Blache says.

The series will be featured at the New Orleans Museum of Art in April, 2012.

“I’m happy for Gus, because this is a good thing to have this show in the New Orleans Museum of Art; I’m very proud of Gus,” Chase says.

She points out to the young artist, “Do you know how many artists would like to have that?”

The upcoming show is a big deal, Chase says, not because she’s the subject of the series, but because she wants locals to recognize the significance of art the way she does.

“You don’t have to understand it, to appreciate it,” the honorary lifetime board member of NOMA says. “And it’s not about me. I want to move my community. I want them in the museum.”

The idea for the project was presented to Blache by his art rep, Eugene Daymude.

“I was totally gung-ho about it,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “And she was pleased with the work from the beginning. She told me, ‘You captured me the way I like to look at paintings.’ She was great. I’ve been very, very lucky to work with her.”

“We started in October of 2009,” he added, “I shoot reference (with a camera) and I work from the reference while in New York and come back in town and get with her to sit, or I’ll go in the back (kitchen) and do sketches of her working — You don’t want to be too burdensome in terms of her space.”

When Blache asks for a glass of water, Chase obliges, but not without teasing him, “You can have anything you want, but just stay out of my way,” she says.

Along with accommodating guests, the main dining room at Dooky Chase also hosts a large collection of African-American art. Some purchased; others given to Chase as gifts.

“All of these artists are my friends,” she says, looking at the work on the walls of the dining room. “Bruce Brice, John Biggers, and Elizabeth Catlett,” she points out, “That’s my favorite piece. It really speaks to you.”

Chase’s collection was once on display at NOMA.

“I enjoy art, because it’s relaxing to me,” Chase says. “You may never understand what an artist is doing; they paint things and you see it; and you think one way, and they may think another, but as long as you can appreciate their talent- and that’s all I do, I appreciate their talent.”

The cooking legend says she learned to appreciate art from businesswoman and art advocate, Celestine Cook. “She taught me to appreciate art and be a part of the museum here, because she knew what it was going to do for my business, and she was so right,” Chase mentions. “It put me in touch with a clientele that I would have never come across had I not been a part of the museum. And she wasn’t an artist; she was just someone who appreciated art.”

Cook was the first African American to sit on the NOMA board of trustees.

Chase would like to pass on what she learned from Celestine Cook to the next generation of New Orleanians.

“I’m going to try to make it work so we can have more Black members of the museum; so that children can be able to see all kinds of things that you can see in the museum,” Chase said.

Ironically, the Catlett piece, Two Generations, represents the significant role of grandmothers in the lives of children in African-American families. The renowned artist once stated, ‘We can learn from Black women.’

If Leah Chase has her way, our community will learn much more about African-American art.

“She wants the community to embrace art,” Blache says. “She understands how important it is to our community and what it can do for our community, especially our youth.” Ms. Chase knows firsthand how art can transform your life — she’s a culinary artist herself. She just wants that for her community on a larger scale.”

To see more of Blache’s series, visit http://gustaveblache.com.

This article originally published in the August 29, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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