Artwork can transport us to another place, stir up reactions, cause us to think. It can also make a house a home.
That’s why new Southeastern Louisiana University President William S. Wainwright and his wife Misty took their time in viewing a slideshow of this year’s 16th Annual Louisiana Fine Arts Showcase entries. Their endgame: selecting 30 pieces that will be on display throughout the presidential residence in Hammond for the next year.
The showcase is limited to work by Louisiana artists, while the media is varied — painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and ceramics.
Showcase curator Cristina Molina, director of the SLU Contemporary Art Gallery and associate professor of new media and animation, not only walked the Wainwrights through the selection process but guided them as they determined where to install each piece in their new home.
“That’s when it really tied in this area for us personally,” said William Wainwright, glancing around the spacious two-story living area, with its freshly painted walls, new rugs and elegant chandelier. Tall, glass-paned doors look out on a side patio where the couple has added two white rocking chairs.
Changes to the four-bedroom brick residence, built in 2005, were minimal in the transition from retiring President John L. Crain to the Wainwrights, who have a grown son and daughter.
“The home is just spectacular, well-designed, well-preserved,” he said. “We put new carpet upstairs, but didn’t even paint up there because it was still pristine.”
The couple described three showcase selections in particular “that were deeply moving and important to us that we had no idea would be until we sat down and made those selections,” William Wainwright said.
“We take that very personally, that we are kind of the caretakers of these beautiful pieces of art for the next year. And we want to make sure that we are looking out for the pieces of art. We want to make sure that people know about the artists, which is why we still have brochures out that explain who created each piece,” he said. “It was hard to make the selection because they were all fabulous.”
Particularly poignant for his wife is a pink linen wall hanging by Diana Antohe titled “dragostea din tei.” The artist used colored pencil and thread and finished the edges with trim.
“Cristina (Molina), our faculty member, hung it. She and I are standing here and I said, ‘What is that stitched in the piece of linen?’ the university’s first lady recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t know. I really haven’t read it.’ Now this is the exact time that my mom was in hospice and we knew what the outcomes certainly were going to be. And so Cristina said, ‘Let’s start here and we’re going to work our way around.'”
The artist had sewn on the tapestry: “When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on? When you’re gone, though I try, how can I carry on?”
“Wow. And I thought that is one of the most powerful things,” Misty Wainwright said. “It’s almost like this piece of artwork found us. And I do believe that artwork finds a way to the people who are supposed to take care of it.”
At hearing those words (taken from the Abba song, “S.O.S.”), Misty Wainwright said she started tearing up.
“I said, I think, you know, I should probably disclose what’s happening here. And Cristina said that this is exactly where this piece of work needs to be, is in this home with you.”
Molina said the small private study at the back of the house was the appropriate spot.
“But we want to share it with everyone too, because the artist did such a great job,” Misty Wainwright added.
Also capturing the Wainwrights’ attention was “Lingering Thoughts,” an acrylic/charcoal painting by Garnet Bernard.
“For the last 18 years, the photo on the back of my business card (she’s a licensed professional counselor) was a silhouette of a woman sitting backwards. And so when we saw this piece, it was just really fitting that, you know, I’m leaving one practice, but it’s still coming with me,” Misty Wainwright said.
The silhouette painting hangs in the hallway leading to the primary bedroom. It’s directly across from artist Emre Karaoglu’s “Portrait of Marlena,” an oil on paper.
“Her name is Marlena, and when they flashed her picture on the slideshow, her face was just like a storyteller,” she explained. “I said, ‘She looks like she has a thousand stories to tell. She has to be in the hallway across from ‘Lingering Thoughts.'”
In the same hallway hangs a framed photo of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marksville, where the couple married almost 25 years ago. The photo was a gift from her late mother, and one of the must-haves when packing up for the move from their Madisonville home this summer.
Heading into the kitchen, one of a trio of photos, all separate inclusions in the showcase, is by photographer Phillip Colwart and is another sentimental pick for the couple.
Titled “Soon it Will be Our Time,” the photo features band students, sitting with their instruments in their laps, waiting for their turn to perform. Colwart captured the photo at Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, the campus where the Wainwrights first met while both were in graduate school.
Misty Wainwright is putting her counseling work aside to focus on her first lady duties, but will be volunteering in the University Counseling Center. Most recently, the new president served for 12 years as chancellor of Northshore Technical Community College.
Not only did the outgoing president leave behind copious notes for his successor and a gift basket of Lion memorabilia for the family, he also passed on a bit of advice about life in the president’s house.
“It’s kind of like your living room is a hotel lobby,” Crain said, alluding to the procession of university personnel and visitors through the first floor’s main space on a daily basis.
A hotel lobby with lots of impressive Louisiana art, that is.