Local artist influenced by family, Old Masters

A recent trip to the museum proved to be quite inspiring. As a result, you rush to the art store and purchase an absurd amount of expensive paint supplies. Once home, you immediately set up your space and prepare for that natural talent, that you just know you possess, to take hold. You think, “I am going to be the next Rembrandt, Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci.” You approach the canvas, take a deep breath and stand there blinking blankly at the white emptiness. Maybe a class or two wouldn’t hurt.

Local artist Mildred C. Gisclair, a resident of Cut Off, said when she first started to paint, she knew that it was important to take some lessons before stepping up to the easel.

“I’ve been painting since 1981. I’ve always been interested in painting, so I got inspired by my sister, who was taking classes, and I did that also … because I just felt like I needed to get some guidance,” she said.

Gisclair, who is the first-vice president of the Les Artistes du Bayou, a non-profit art organization from lower Bayou Lafourche, paints more for pleasure than profit, but she does frequently sell one of her specialties n painted oyster shells.

“You can’t even imagine what it looks like just by saying, ‘I paint oyster shells,’” she exclaimed. “What I do is, I soak them when I first get them in Clorox and water, and two or three times I change the water every two weeks. Then finally I scrub them down with a brush, put them in a wheel barrel and dry them outside. Then I put a white primer base coat and then I paint a wildlife scene. It is awesome … they are so intricate and so detailed because I love to do it.”

While Gisclair gives many of her paintings away, including the ones on the shellfish canvas, any money she does receive for her art she uses to purchase more paints.

With that paint she has created a number of works, including several Old Masters, a term for skilled and fully trained European artists, who painted before the 1800’s, including Van Gogh, Monet, Velazquez, Goya and Corot to name a few. It also refers to the artwork created by these artists.

According to Gisclair’s biography, she enjoys painting with all mediums, but prefers oil painting the most because “of her profound appreciation of the Old Masters.” One of her personal favorites is French artist, Edgar Degas.

“I really got interested in Degas because they used to have Degas Day in New Orleans once a year at the New Orleans Museum of Art,” she explained. “It was on the boulevard and you could set up a little tent and there were competitions.”

Gisclair started painting Degas’ “Two Dancers on Stage” for the Degas Day competition until she received a letter saying that the event had been cancelled.

“So I finished it, put it up on my wall and I loved it,” she said. “One day, one of my daughters tells me, ‘Mom, there is something that if no one else asks for it I want you to put it in your will for me.’ I’m not one for a lot of jewelry and I said that I don’t know what it is that you would like … and she said, ‘Your Degas.’”

This gave Gisclair a fabulous idea and over time she tricked each of her four children into telling her what their favorite Old Master was. She then replicated the pieces and surprised her children with the thoughtful gifts.

From this idea formed another and the vice president encouraged her art organization to paint replicas of Old Masters to be shown in an exhibit.

“It promoted two things,” she said. “It promoted the guild members to get down and paint and … it showed them that they could really do something beautiful.”

According to Gisclair, the value of a copy is how close it is to the original, so to show that these are indeed copies, each artists’ signature is followed by the word “after” and the Old Master’s name. She said that everyone did a remarkable job on the reproductions.

“It is an awesome exhibit and I am very excited about it,” she touted. “When we were threw hanging … I told (the artists) I was just so proud of them all. They gave 1000 percent of themselves to this.”

“Some people think that all we can do down here is paddle a pirogue down the bayou,” she joked.

Seventeen of the approximately 50 Les Artistes du Bayou members participated in the show. Gisclair has two pieces on display n her Degas’ dancers and a reconstruction of Corot’s “Monk in White, Seated, Reading.”

The exhibit is currently on view at Southdown Plantation and Museum in Houma until Feb. 4, 2011. The artwork can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is $2 for the exhibit and $6 for a full tour of the plantation, including the exhibit. Call (985) 851-0154 for more information.