Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Orleans Saint Joseph's Day altar painting

"New Orleans Saint Joseph's Day altar" by Andrew LaMar Hopkins

Yesterday was the last day of a six month period of painting "New Orleans Saint Joseph's Day altar". The painting was thought up by a client last Fall. I got the commission to start on "New Orleans Saint Joseph's Day altar" last January. The painting was suppose to be finish by last Easter but it dragged on.  Over lunch today a good friend ask me how many hours I put into my latest masterpiece. After thinking a bit I answered "out of the six month period I probably  worked on the painting two weeks straight. Add that up in hours. Although I did get more money then originally agree for the paintings. It's paintings like this that makes me not want to take commissions as I have turned down many over the last 3 months. 

 Many parts of the painting had to be over painted. I painted the background on this paintings over 6 times and decided to work on the background last. I original painted tired tables with a linen tablecloth and the client wanted local cypress cabriole leg tables with lace tablecloths where one would see the cypress. Originally there was 3 altar boys. He wanted a priest added  and one of the Altar boys to be black. To make this a New Orleans painting he wanted the 18th century Early Louisiana cabriole leg table to one side of the alter with hurricane globe and beehive candlestick and the two 18th century Louisiana Latterback chairs to the other side. After working on it for a month I showed him the painting with the altar mostly complete but just with Saint Joseph in the center. He wanted the cross on one side and the Virgin Mary on the other. I turned the Virgin Mary into Our Lady of Prompt Succor. She is also known as Notre-Dame de Bon Secours. She is the principal patroness of the state of Louisiana, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the city of New Orleans. Her feast day is celebrated on January 8.

The three table that make up the Saint Joseph altar also represents the Trinity.  

The priest and altar boys old up silver candlesticks and cross. This is the first time I use silver paint in one of my paintings.  

Though Sicilian immigrants introduced the custom to America, the celebration is not confined to any nationality. Rather, it has become a public event which its devoted participants embrace for a host of private and personal reasons. The feast is alternately a source of petition and thanksgiving.The majority of Italian immigrants in New Orleans are from Sicily and started to arrive in large numbers in the 1880s to escape a homeland, that had fallen into a corrupt, dangerous, and unlawful state. They arrived in a city where previous Italian immigrants had already established a decent-sized community, dating back to the French era. In fact, the Italian-born Henri de Tonti, as part of a French expedition, explored Louisiana even before New Orleans existed and later became a leader in the fledgling colony. A street named Tonti still exists in the city.

The table tops are abound with Italian breads of different shapes. Local foods such as oysters, redfish and crabs. Brass urns line the tables with local Sago palms leaves. 

Two Creole Louisiana 18th century latterback chairs are to the side of the altar. 

The Italians began social clubs and benevolent organizations as other ethnic groups in New Orleans did. The oldest group began before the Civil War, but more and more formed with the wave of Sicilian immigrants during the last part of the 19th century. These organizations were often linked to a specific region in Italy to preserve customs among members and helped provide a support network for new arrivals. Many Italians settled in run-down apartments of the French Quarter, which, for a while, was locally known as “Little Italy.”

18th century Early Louisiana cabriole leg table to one side of the alter with hurricane globe and beehive candlestick

Christ on the cross on a gilded Rococo cross with paneled Faux Marble wall and columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. 

Over the decades, however, Italians became integrated into New Orleans culture and society. The Sicilian tradition of building elaborate St. Joseph’s Day altars is now a New Orleans tradition.  Just as everyone becomes Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, New Orleans Catholics (along with a few other Christians) become Italian for a while in March, as the altars are prepared. The faithful will then go around the city, from altar to altar, visiting family and friends. They’ll stop for a prayer or two, then leave some coins to help offset the costs of setting up the altar (leftover cash is then donated to the poor). On the way out, folks will stop and pick up a “lucky bean,” a fava bean symbolizing the restoration of the crops in Sicily.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor.  She is the principal patroness of the state of Louisiana, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the city of New Orleans. With paneled Faux Marble wall and columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. 

Saint Joseph stands over the stone altar. 

St. Joseph altars, representing the Holy Trinity, are divided into three sections with a statue of St. Joseph at the head. The devout place candles, figurines, flowers, medals and other items around the alter creating a beautiful, lush and overflowing effect. Since the altars thank St. Joseph for relieving hunger, offerings of food are essential.

Over Saint Joseph is a Triangle representing the Trinity in clouds and sun rays with cross behind. 

Cookies, cakes and breads, often in the form of shell fish, are common decorations for altars. Fava beans, or “lucky beans” are particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine. Pick some up for good luck! As tradition has it, the altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day with a ceremony of costumed children, pretending to look for shelter, finding sustenance at the altar. Food and donations are then distributed to the poor.

The gilded Tabernacle door has a image of the lamb of God. The front Altar a profile of  the Virgin Mary. The Altar sticks are Baroque. If you look at the front center of the table with the silver cross between you will see the "lucky fava beans" it is one of the most well-known customs and comes from the time of the famine in Sicily when all the crops withered and died, except for the fava bean, which flourished and enabled the citizens to live through the famine.  It is said that Sicilians and the people of New Orleans often carry a dried fava bean for good luck. I carry 3 in my picket every day. 

"New Orleans Saint Joseph's Day altar" by Andrew LaMar Hopkins

Symbols abound on St. Joseph's Altars:  Breads baked in the form of fish represent the Lenten Season.  Those in the form of carpenter's tools allude to Joseph's occupation as a carpenter.  Other symbols often used as a form for bread or other baked goods are:  sandals, staff, chalice, dove, lamb, cross, a crown of thorns, palms horn of plenty.

We decided to do Gothic decoration in the background of the altar. 

In the blue and ormolu urns on each side of the altar are local flowers. Ginger flowers and hydrangeas. 

I can't wait to work on my next Saint Joseph's Altar painting!!!

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