Inspired by the glory days of aviation in Louisiana in the early 1930s, Wing Walkers Celebrating the Restoration of the Wetlands is a unique celebration of Louisiana’s endangered coastal marshes and swamps. This year-long exhibit of paintings by Robert Warrens that opened in October 2015 is on view at the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum in Patterson, La., a unit of the Louisiana State Museum.
“In his characteristic bold style and with his insightful visual wit, Robert Warrens pays homage to the aviators of Louisiana’s past while focusing on major environmental issues facing Louisiana today,” said Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne. “The Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum is the ideal setting for this important artistic commentary on the challenges facing our wetlands.”
With 16 paintings ranging in size from 30” x 24” to 93” x 72,” Warrens highlights the accomplishments of Louisiana aviators in the 1930s, and in a flight of fancy, he imagines the restoration of the Louisiana wetlands. The paintings feature wing walkers and dogs on top of biplanes celebrating the restoration, majestic birds sweeping across the canvases, and racing pilots and aircraft designers such as James “Jimmie” Wedell. Although the paintings have a whimsical element, they represent a serious attempt to bring attention to the need for wetlands restoration.
While the possibility of achieving wetlands restoration remains debatable, the success of early aviators in Louisiana is grounded in fact. Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams formed an air service in Patterson in 1928 and received national acclaim for their achievements. Warrens conflates the blossoming of aviation in the 1930s with the coastal land-loss problems of the 21st century to create a show of great imagination and artistic accomplishment.
Warrens taught at LSU from 1967 to 1998 and is currently professor emeritus. During his 60-year career as a professional artist, he has received numerous awards and grants from institutions and organizations such as the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the The Delgado Society of the New Orleans Museum of Art. He is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from St. Tammany Parish.
The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art awarded Warrens its R.J.R. Southern Artist Fellowship, and the National Endowment for the Arts honored him with two visual artists fellowships.
His painting commissions include large-scale murals at the Robert E. Smith Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Baton Rouge Community College, the Pan American Life Center, K & B Plaza and the Louisiana Centroplex Building. His sculptures are on display at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans and on the Southeastern Louisiana University campus in Hammond, La. A commission for a mosaic fountain is in a private residence in Metairie, La.
In 1990, he was awarded a major retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art, which included 100 paintings and sculptures. Since 2007, he has had solo museum shows at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Alexandria Museum of Art, the Masur Museum of Art, the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum and the LSU Museum of Art. In 2016, he will have a solo exhibition at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi.
About the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum
The official state museum for aviation and the cypress sawmill industry, the Louisiana State Museum, Patterson, houses two very important collections documenting this rich history.
The Wedell-Williams Aviation Collection highlights the legacy of Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams, who formed an air service in Patterson in 1928. Both men achieved national prominence in aviation. Although both Wedell and Williams perished in plane crashes, their legacy lives on in the artifacts and planes on display.
This newly renovated exhibit offers state-of-the-art displays, including numerous aircraft, such as the famous “Miss Patterson” #44 and the “Gilmore” #121, along with Wedell-Williams’ 1930s air-racing trophies and memorabilia.
The new David J. Felterman Theater features an exciting air-racing film that visually transports the visitor to the heart of the 1932 Cleveland National Air Races. The new interactive gallery provides a firsthand experience with the principles of flight.
The Patterson Cypress Sawmill Collection documents the history of the cypress lumber industry in Louisiana. The lumber business became the state’s first significant manufacturing industry. As a result, cypress lumber harvested and milled in Louisiana was shipped in mass quantities across the United States.
The town of Patterson was once home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world, owned by Frank B. Williams. In 1997, the Louisiana State Legislature designated Patterson as the cypress capitol of Louisiana. The museum features artifacts, photographs, and film that tell the story of this important regional industry.
Visit www.LouisianaStateMuseum.org for more information.