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New Orleans Trivia

What is the turquoise structure that looks like a house on legs at the triangle where St. Bernard Avenue meets Gentilly Boulevard?

Blake Pontchartrain: N.O. Know It All


Hey Blake,

There's a turquoise structure that looks like a house on legs at the triangle where St. Bernard Avenue meets Gentilly Boulevard. What is it?


Dear Sally,

  That turquoise work of art located at the intersection of Desaix and Gentilly boulevards is titled Spirit House. It was a collaboration between sculptors John T. Scott and Martin Payton and students at Medard H. Nelson Elementary School and St. Leo the Great Catholic School. It was built in 2001 and dedicated to the city in 2002.

  The collaborators were brought together by the Arts Council of New Orleans, which has served as the city's official arts agency for 36 years. Spirit House was part of the agency's Percent For Art Program, which has supported public art projects by local nonprofit organizations for the past 25 years.

  For the Spirit House project, the artists presented students with lessons about the history of European and African art and how art is and was used to tell stories of a people. The project asked the students of the Desaix Circle Community to reflect upon "those unnamed, unremembered, African-Americans who contributed greatly to the building of this City: spiritually, physically, and culturally."

  Spirit House is their completed design, with symbolism in each panel, in its buttresses and even its orientation. Posted on each supporting leg are artists' narratives that explain the imagery and significance of the sculpture. For example, Spirit House faces north, and as the sun rises, a shadow is cast on the west, the part of the world where Africans were forced to relocate via slavery. As the sun sets, the shadow migrates east, which represents returning the spirits back to their homeland. The Middle Passage is also represented. If you step under the structure and look up, you will see bound figures carrying symbols of West African culture.

  Also represented are modern African-Americans who have helped to build the community, including a bricklayer and a second line dancer, as well as farmers, waiters, carpenters and more.

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