CADE — A steady stream of visitors lingered at a table covered with the unique artwork painted by one of the most fascinating vendors in the history of the Sugar Chapter’s Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana banquets Thursday night at the Cade Community Center.
One of the visitors, his young son and his teenage daughter did a double take as they walked near a corner in the large hall where Rodney Lewis of Baton Rouge, formerly of New Iberia and the artist responsible for painting the mural on Bon Creole, had set up shop. The boy exclaimed aloud to get his father’s attention, which he did.
“Yeah, we saw him last week,” Burt Cestia III of New Iberia said after he talked a while with Lewis.
Cestia, a financial advisor for Edward Jones, explained they saw Lewis at Grand Isle, where the artist lives in his camper and sells his artwork from May through the first two weeks of August. Cestia recently purchased a camp on Grand Isle and has been spending more time with his family at the small barrier island in southeast Louisiana.
“Yeah, we love his work. It looks awesome,” he said.
That was the overwhelming consensus of men and women who stopped to see and buy 18-inch wood pirogues painted with picturesque outdoors scenes of Louisiana, or otherwise appealing, like LSU’s “eye of the tiger.” He also sold larger wood pirogues that can be hung from the ceiling, as well as larger pieces of painted cypress with breathtaking scenes.
Cestia told Lewis he was interested in a larger piece to put in his camp at Grand Isle. They talked at length.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Cestia said.
“I’m glad to be here,” Lewis said with a chuckle.
The 60-year-old outdoorsman, celebrating his 25th year as a full-time artist, had his routine down pat. He could paint pirogues, which were assembled already, in five minutes or less.
“The name of the game is you name it, I paint it. I can paint it in three to five minutes,” Lewis said to interested visitors.
His talent and expertise showed especially after he was approached by Jerome Gaspard, who picked out a pirogue and asked if Lewis could paint the logo for the political campaign for Tommy Romero, a candidate for Iberia Parish sheriff. Lewis did it in a few minutes, brushstroke by brushstroke, and it looked like a mirror image of the logo on the campaign card.
Gaspard said he and the candidate go way back in law enforcement working under both G. “Jerry” Wattigny and Errol “Romo” Romero. So he was campaigning enthusiastically for his longtime friend.
Lewis fielded all questions from the banquet-goers.
He was a few decades removed from the days he worked on ships in Barcelona, Spain, where he visited a maritime museum and was fascinated by the way they built and displayed their wooden boats. While returning to his ship, he saw some wooden fruit crates, took them to his room and, to pass the time, started building boats with them.
Soon, the single parent decided to build and paint them for a living.
Lewis uses acrylic paints to create his artwork.
“The reason I’m using acrylics, oils would take forever to dry. Acrylics dry really fast,” he said.
As for the boats, he doesn’t know how long it takes to build one but, he said, “Well, you can do a bunch of them during the day.”
The scenes on the pirogues were sights Louisiana residents and visitors see in the swamp, the marsh and just about anywhere outdoors in Louisiana. Many of them were fishing scenes.
One favorite appeared to be a pirogue depicting ducks, a camp and a colorful sunset over the marsh.
Lewis said he plans to be at the CCA-Louisiana’s Vermilion Chapter banquet Sept. 26 in Abbeville.