“I am the only Primitive Naive Acadian Artist,” she would always tell me. Mrs. Mary Anne Pecot De Boisblanc was indeed the only known Primitive Naive Acadian Artist designated as such. Her art is classified as “primitive” because of its simplistic ethnic content. It is noted as “naive” due to the style in which this simple ethnicity is painted. Naive painting is childlike to the beholder, but is often a style used by very accomplished artists. In this case the ethnic group portrayed in her paintings was her personal people group, the Acadians, or “Cajuns.”
But it is with great saddness that I share that she passed away in December of 2015 at the age of 90. What a wonderful, authentic individual she was!
I learned of Mrs. Mary Anne after I saw her paintings in a book at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA several years ago. I saw that her paintings depicted the lifestyle and customs of my Acadian ancestors, so I sought permission to post some of the paintings in a family story I was writing for this blog, “Bonfires on the Bayou .”
After I posted that article, I received a message from her granddaughter that encouraged me to contact Mrs. Mary Anne. Little did I know at the time, but she and I were distant cousins. We share the same grandmother who was one of the original Acadians to settle in Louisiana.
I decided to call her. We had a delightful conversation and talked for most of an hour — all the while she was drawing a new pencil sketch.
It just so happened that I was planning to go to St. Martinville the next day for the annual Acadian Festival. I thought I should ask Mrs. Mary Anne if she would like to go with me even though we had just met. Through our conversation, she seemed to know that she could trust me and told me that she could tell I was “good people.” So she decided to go. Having difficulty getting around, she made arrangements for her home care person to go with us.
I visited with her for a while the next morning at her home in Metairie. She showed me stacks of history books, drawings, paintings and a curious tall can of assorted walking canes. And much to my surprise, she gave me the pencil drawing that she had been drawing during our phone conversation the day before! I was thrilled!
I drove and she talked. It was mid-March in south Louisiana so azaleas were in full bloom everywhere and the weather was gorgeous! As we drove through swamps and lowlands and passed near Raceland, Houma, and Morgan City, she told me all about her childhood growing up in Labadieville and all of her Acadian ancestors. I then told her about my ancestors from the area. At one point she began searching through papers in her lap and pulled out a printed story about her Acadian grandmother, the one that we discovered we shared. She said the story was very good, but she didn’t know who wrote it. When she started reading it to me, I realized it was the “Bonfires on the Bayou” story I had written. I told her that the author was me. She looked so surprised and excited to find that out! From that point on, we were forging a beautiful friendship.
I call that first meeting my DeBoisblanc Day. We visited the Acadian Memorial, which included her being able to see some old friends, and then we went around the countryside seeing old ancestral homes of mine and some of hers.
Walking through the courtyard of the Acadian Memorial and on to the Evangeline Oak.
When we visited Charenton, LA, she showed me where the old drug store used to be and the family’s old home place. We visited a couple of cemeteries and then we stopped by a friend of hers to visit for a little while. As we walked through the home, paintings of hers could be seen hanging on the walls. She was obviously generous and wanted to share her work with those she considered friends.
After seeing many sights and visiting with treasured friends our day ended, but our friendship did not.
During our many conversations that day, she told me that many of her paintings and drawings were on display at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge. I told her that I would love to go see them, to which she replied, “Let’s make plans to do that soon!” So we did.
The next week, we met in Baton Rouge and this time my daughter and my father who are also her cousins, came with me to meet this charming lady and to see her unique artwork.
Later, we went upstairs and visited with State Archivist and Director, Florent “Pon” Hardy, Jr. He was instrumental in having her art displayed for the public at the Archives.
Many times that I was down in the New Orleans area, I would go by for a visit and we would talk history and genealogy, share family stories, and look at more of her art work.
One time, soon after our Archives visit, she called me and told me I needed to come down when I could, that she had something for me. I made my way down there in the next day or so and when I got there, she handed me a painting very similar to the drawing she gave me. But it was special because on this one she painted parts of it metallic gold — the umbrella, the road, and a group of eggs at the man’s feet. To her the gold symbolized new life, family, and happiness. The thought of her wanting to give me that painting is so precious to me, because she was accepting me as part of her family.
I have framed both of them and they hang together in my home along with one of her canes from her collection. She had told me to choose whichever cane I wanted. Many were colorful and fancy, but I chose one that is simple, sleek, and to me looks like one she probably used many times.
She and her art are beloved by many. At one time even a regional college was interested in possibly displaying her art in a permanent display. They traveled down to New Orleans just to visit with her and discuss this proposal. In the end, it wasn’t to be, but they recognized the value of her art and the contribution it has made to the understanding of this iconic culture of Louisiana.
Mrs. Mary Anne DeBoisblanc conferring with officials from Louisiana College
Much love to you, Mrs. Mary Anne. You will be sorely missed. Your art and your memory will live on and bring joy to many!