New downtown mural to tell Terrebonne Parish’s story

A mural depicting the evolution of Terrebonne Parish, the Houma area in particular, has been a project Hans Geist has longed to do for some time. The local artist will soon get a chance to see that dream become reality as work begins on a massive project in downtown Houma.

The idea began when a private donor offered a $60,000 donation to the parish, a gift intended to put more artwork into the historic area.

“The individual wanted to donate the money because of his love of art,” Jamie Elfert, chief financial officer for Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government said. “He always wanted to see something like this done in the downtown area.”

Geist is the man behind the handful of other murals that appear downtown, making him the natural choice for the project. Work soon began on a design and the finished project will serve as a timeline of the area’s growth for generations to come. The design will focus on the history of the area, beginning with the Native Americans who arrived in the early 1700s, migrating south as Europeans began to settle in the more northern region of the state. The design will also depict the arrival of the Acadians and places fundamental to the establishment of the area.

“It’s a lot of landmarks and monuments that are no longer here,” Geist said. “Things that people didn’t even know existed.”

The artist said as a life-long resident of Houma, he’s done research on the area for many years, but only started spending significant time looking up documents and photographs over the last year. His work on a similar timeline piece in Destrehan in 2014 inspired him to delve deeper into the history and his discovery of a locally written book influenced what will soon appear on the brick wall lining the side of 7928 Main St.

“I really worked close with an organization [in Destrehan] which does research for their parish,” Geist said. “I researched with them for about six months before starting work … There’s a book by Dr. Chris Cenac called ‘Eyes of an Eagle.’ He has probably the best research that I’ve seen as far as the collection of really old images of the history of the parish. When I found his book, I was just like, ‘Oh this is it. This is what I need.’ It pretty much helped me to bring it together.”

Geist is in the preliminary phases of the project, collecting metal panels that will be painted one by one at his home studio. The overall image will be divided up into sections, with four or five metal panels making up each section. The artist hopes to have the first section complete and ready for installation by the fall and the entire project should be completed within one year.

“I’m excited. This is something I’ve wanted to do for awhile to show more about our history and it’s just an honor to be able to do it, really,” Geist said. “This is what I love to do and I just really am thankful for the opportunity.”