A Shirtless Farmer in a Fancy Hotel

6.5.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Just a small part of an $8 million collection.

The Windsor Court Hotel, my well-appointed headquarters for the trip, prides itself on its extensive art collection. Valued at $8 million, it includes a picture of Windsor Castle by Thomas Gainsborough and Jacob Huyman's "A Noblewoman with Her Three Children" and, during Hurricane Katrina, when looters ran rampant, the Windsor stationed armed guards at entrances to protect the irreplaceable treasures.

One of those works, located in the private dining room of The Grill Room, is a series of three 7-by-17-foot murals painted in 2003 by local artist Auseklis Ozols, a Latvian who emigrated to the United States in 1949, when he was 8, and to New Orleans in 1970. Eight years later, he founded the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.

Each of the mural's panels depicts a distinct era: an 1860s plantation, Jackson Square in the 19th Century and the French Market at the turn of the 20th Century. This last one, the central image, features more than a few famous faces, including Pope John Paul II, Mark Twain, and native sons Louis Armstrong and Harry Connick Jr. But the face that fascinated me most was that of a farmer* stacking husks off to the left. 

He's shirtless and, with his back to the viewer, we're shown a profile. He's looking longingly at something behind us, something in the distance. He's sad but determined. What is he looking at? Where is he looking?

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*I have since learned that said farmer is actually local actor and bartender named Matt Palumbo. Ozols definitely captured his face.

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