“My brother told me once that I was turning into Granny,” said Lisa Lourd, a gleam in her eye. “He didn’t know it then, but he gave me the best compliment I’ve ever had.”
Granny, Gertie Duhe by name, was simply an elegant woman. She was glamorous, adventurous and artistic, a grand lady of her time. “She had great taste, and she lived in a house full of beautiful things,” said Lisa, who had the distinction of being Gertie’s first grandchild. “I remember going over there being wide-eyed at all the lovely things. I had to keep my hands at my side, and just look at them all, there was no touching allowed. I was a good girl. I soaked it all in.”
Much of the beauty of her surroundings, Gertie created herself. She learned to paint on china, because that’s what ladies did then. She produced exquisite pieces, ranging from dinner service to punch bowls, lamps to tea sets. There are platters, luncheon plates, coffee mugs and more, delicate strokes of color depicting flowers and fruit, or natural scenes of southern life.
Lisa owns a large collection of her Granny’s painted china, displayed throughout her house. “Granny loved pretty things. My Grampy smoked, and she hated it. But she painted some flower ashtrays for him to use. If you’re going to do something, you might as well make it pretty,” she said. “I had no idea how much china there was until after she died. There were just boxes and boxes, each one more beautiful than the next. Finally, I decided, I’ll display it and use it, and that makes me happy. I think she’d love it that I’m using her pretty things.”
Gertie had learned the art of painting on china from a woman remembered as Mrs. Wiggington. John ‘Jay’ Duhe II, son of Gertie and father of Lisa, recalled that his mother took a class, then joined a group of ladies who would paint along with Mrs. Wiggington from time to time.
“When she was learning, my mother would use the kiln at Mrs. Wiggington’s house to fire her pieces. Later on, she got her own kiln and started firing her pieces herself,” said Duhe. “She liked the china painting because they used a grease pencil to draw in their designs, and it was quick and easy to revise them, just wipe it off and redraw. She tried her hand at painting on canvas; she found it tedious by comparison, and did not pursue it because of that.” One of few paintings she did hangs in Duhe’s house, a still life of a vase of yellow roses and a small statue.
Even though the design process was easily revised, the full process was long. Each paint color would be fired individually and when finished, the pieces would be glazed and refired. Each piece featured numerous colors, developing depth and accents of the delicate flowers. “The paint colors were not the same before and after firing,” said Lisa. “I would imagine getting used to that was a process as well. I have some of her earlier work, and you can see her work develop as she learned more techniques. I remember she would travel from time to time to attend painting classes.”
Gertie Duhe signed most of her floral masterpieces, using the back of the paintbrush to create a negative space. “Granny painted for a long time, until her eyesight wasn’t as good, and because she moved several times after Grampy passed away, things were just packed up. Nevertheless, she left a wealth of pieces for her family to enjoy. Lisa has some, her father, uncles and cousins have some as well. “I opened a box my cousin sent me recently, and there were more of Granny's treasures. I am so glad to have them, to share them with family and friends, to use them every day. Lisa has posted pictures of her collection on Facebook, and she seemed surprised as to how much interest they generated. “I figured, I could at least have pictures for reference, but people really seemed to enjoy them. If I didn’t post for a while, they’d say, ‘Where’s Granny’s treasures?’ I’ve photographed all of my collection, and I’ve started posting the pieces Daddy has as well,” she said.
Lisa says she really doesn't have one favorite from the pieces she has, rather, her choices change with the times. “I didn’t like the poppies for a while, but now I’m drawn to their vivid colors. I loved the pansies, then the plum coffee mug was my go-to. Each one has its own charm,” she said. A perennial selection, however, is the platter painted in roses and pinks, with the fluted gold rim and Gertie’s signature just beneath the flowers.
These are exquisite traces of an exquisite woman. Yes, Lisa, turning into your Granny couldn’t possibly be a bad thing. And you’re doing it in your own style.