Rodrigue’s Blue Dog ‘Takes Five’ for LSU’s music school

What started with a Steinway piano covered with Blue Dogs culminated in a posthumous silkscreen print when the estate of George Rodrigue unveiled “Take Five” on Thursday at LSU’s Lod Cook Hotel and Conference Center.

The 31-by-26-inch print features George Rodrigue’s iconic Blue Dog in black tie sitting at the keyboard of what appears to be a Steinway piano, the same baby-grand style of Steinway that the late Louisiana artist turned into art in 2012 to benefit the LSU School of Music.

George Rodrigue died Dec. 14, 2013, but he painted “Take Five” in 2004. He designed the silkscreen before his death, and the Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts began searching for the original painting’s owner six months ago to get permission to create a limited edition of 950 prints.

The prints will sell for $500 apiece, and proceeds will benefit both the LSU School of Music and the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.

“We’ll split the proceeds in half after covering a few expenses,” Jacques Rodrigue said before the unveiling.

He is the foundation’s executive director and the late artist’s son.

“Our original intent was to auction off the Rodrigue Steinway with the proceeds benefiting the foundation and the School of Music,” he said. “But the piano has become too valuable to the family now.”

Rodrigue painted the instrument, covering it with Blue Dogs and bright psychedelic swirls, after Steve Compton, the School of Music’s former director of development, approached the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts with the idea.

“Dad had thought for years about painting a piano, then the representatives of the School of Music told him that the Hall Piano Co. was restoring a 100-year-old Steinway,” Jacques Rodrigue said.

The Hall Piano Co., of Metairie, installed Steinway pianos in the LSU School of Music in 2011.

The piano company donated the Rodrigue Steinway to be used as a fundraising tool. It has since made appearances at venues throughout the state, and such musical notables as Billy Joel, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John have used it in performances.

“They’ve all autographed the inside of the piano,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “The foundation is going to keep it, and it will one day be part of a George Rodrigue Museum, which is part of our future plans.”

Jacques Rodrigue can’t help adding a small footnote to the story.

“My dad was happy to paint the piano, but he hated the actual painting of it,” he said. “It hurt his back. There was a lot of real estate to cover, and it was hard work painting all of it, yet at the same time, keeping it interesting.”

The piano stood in the conference center’s lobby during the unveiling ceremony Thursday.

But when the foundation changed its plans for the piano auction, another plan was made.

“We knew that ‘Take Five’ had sold in our gallery in Japan,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “We met with the gallery directors from Japan in New York, but there was a problem because they only spoke Japanese. We were giving them titles, and when we said, ‘Take Five,’ they knew the painting. They said it in English.”

And the gallery directors had records that connected them to the painting’s owner.

“We wanted to release a print that would connect to music and the LSU School of Music,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “We’ve sent a print to the owners, and they’re happy that we were able to make a limited edition print from their painting.”

Each print is numbered and stamped with a specially designed Rodrigue signature.

“We use a proprietary ink for the signature,” Jacques Rodrigue says. “It appears black to the naked eye, purple in fluorescent light and green in infrared light. That’s how you know it’s authentic.”

“Take Five” is the third posthumous print released by the George Rodrigue estate. Its title may reference a musical term or Paul Desmond’s jazz piece, “Take Five,” made famous by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

“I’m not really sure what Dad was referencing in the title, but it had to do with music,” Jacques Rodrigue said.

The first two posthumous prints were released earlier this year with the second selling out in two days.

“We want to continue to release prints for relief efforts,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “My dad released several prints after 9/11 and Katrina, and we plan to keep doing that. This is one of those opportunities.”

The LSU School of Music began working with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts through Louisiana A+ Schools, part of the Turnaround Arts: Louisiana education initiative designed to turn around low-performing schools through arts integration.

The program was spearheaded by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which chose the foundation to direct it.

“We worked with (former) Dean (Laurence) Kaptain on this project,” Jacques Rodrigue said.

“It’s a pleasure to be working with Jacques and the foundation on this,” said Stephen David Beck, director of the School of Music. “We share a vision for the importance of arts in education and creativity in our everyday lives. And our work together in the A+ Schools shows the foundation’s emphasis on education, not only on the college level but in K-12. We’re happy with the culmination of this project, but we’re hoping to continue this collaboration with the foundation for years to come.”

“The college is honored to partner with the Rodrigue Foundation on this event,” added Todd Queen, dean of the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts.

Once the prints sell out, another edition will not be issued.

The prints can be found at georgerodriguefoundation.org or any Rodrigue gallery.

We are so excited to unveil this print that Dad designed,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “Dad was a huge supporter of the arts and education, and we are so proud to partner with the LSU School of Music to continue his legacy.”