Sometimes it’s better not to think about it and simply focus on what you’re doing.
The enormity of the task would be overwhelming, otherwise.
And compiling the most comprehensive history and database of Louisiana artists was nothing less than enormous. Especially the thought of tackling the project with only a handful of people.
“But we were the ones asked to do it,” Michael Sartisky said. “None of the other organizations and institutions were asked to do this. The State Bicentennial Commission had confidence in us.”
Sartisky refers to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, over which he presides. Though the institution’s staff is small, it has produced a book of some 276 artist entries and more than 400 images in time for Louisiana’s year-long bicentennial celebration.
It’s titled A Unique Slant of Light, and Sartisky, along with fellow editors J. Richard Gruber and John Kemp, will talk about the project and sign copies of the book on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the LSU Museum of Art.
Now, the book was only part of the project in this day when information is available at a key stroke or the touch of a screen.
The book also refers its readers to the website, http://www.knowla.org, which not only provides a digital version of A Unique Slant of Light, but allows visitors to click on an artist’s entry which then leads to his or her full biography and more images of the artist’s work.
“So, whereas the biographies in the book could only be 150 to 200 words, the entries on the website provide full biographies of 1,000 to 2,000 words,” Sartisky said. “We could feature only one image for each artist in the book, but the website allows us to show a variety of their work.”
This also brings up another advantage.
“With the website, we don’t have to wait 100 more years to update this artist list in a book,” Sartisky said. “This is an ongoing project that we’re going to constantly update. We’ve already discovered four to six artists who should have been included in the book. We’re going to put them on the website.”
And the result will be the most comprehensive source of Louisiana artwork. Ever.
Sartisky can vouch for this. It’s all here, and no other state has done this. At least, not yet.
Not bad for a year-and-a-half of work. That’s how long it took for Sartisky and his crew to put this together.
No. Correction on that — it’s the amount of time they were given to complete the project.
“Usually, we would take three years to work on a project this big,” Sartisky said. “But we couldn’t push the bicentennial back, so we had to get it done.”
So, Sartisky joined forces with Gruber, director emeritus of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and Kemp, associate editor of the institution’s magazine, Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Kemp also is an art historian.
“We partnered with the leading institutions and scholars of Louisiana art,” Sartisky said.
This included private collections and the state’s major museums and archives, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana State Museum, the LSU Museum of Art, the Meadows Museum at Centenary College of Louisiana, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
“And we just worked,” Sartisky said. “We didn’t stop to think about what we were doing. We couldn’t, because it was so big. We just had to keep working.”
The book originally was to stop at 375 pages, but that number quickly increased to 450 as artists and artwork were added. Artists were categorized by historical period. Categories also are included for Acadian and Creole furniture, folk craft and folk art, Louisiana Native American basketry, Carnival design and Newcomb pottery.
Again, the book can be viewed page-by-page at http://www.knowla.org.
“It can be read there, but it can’t be downloaded,” Sartisky said. “And when you click on a page, it’ll bring you to the artist. Reading it on the website is free.”
The book, itself, costs $120 and is available at book stores, as well as the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities website at http://www.leh.org. The institution published it, and University Press of Mississippi is distributing it.
The project’s next step will be QR codes. Not familiar with this? These are the square, matrix barcodes that appear in advertisements, on signs and, well, most everywhere else. Hold your iPhone or smartphone up to the code, and you are directed to whatever special the advertisement offers for the day.
Now, hold your phone up to a QR code next to a Louisiana artist’s work in one of the state’s many museums, and you’ll immediately directed to that artist’s entry on knowla.org. Well, it’ll happen when the QR codes are put into place.
“The book reflects the remarkable range of art and artists who were inspired and nurtured by the state of Louisiana, presenting the story of that art within the context of the state’s larger cultural and historical environment,” Gruber said. “It documents the diverse national and international artistic influences and developments that have shaped the art of the state from its earliest days, and showcases Louisiana’s art within the framework of 200 years of American art.”
But when thinking about it now, Sartisky counts more than 200 years represented in this book.
‘It’s closer to 300 years of Louisiana art,” he said.
That’s a lot of years, a lot of history.
Best not to think about it and keep working.
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