At 85 years old, Hahnville artist Lorraine Gendron says she is now busier than ever, turning out hundreds of folk art pieces each year, sometimes working in her art studio until 9 or 10 p.m. just to keep up with demand.
A self-taught artist, Gendron previously created folk art pieces utilizing Mississippi River mud, but due to back problems, she discontinued collecting river-based material. She now mostly creates folk art using wood cutouts as her primary medium, which her 91-year-old husband still cuts for her in various shapes and patterns.
Her folk art features classic Louisiana and New Orleans area themes in acrylic paint, such as horse-drawn carriages found in the French Quarter, pelicans, depictions of French Quarter food vendors, jazz musicians, and various Mardi Gras themed pieces. She now takes wholesale orders and special orders, including certain Mardi Gras krewes both locally and from Alabama.
“I’ve done all the Mardi Gras royalty in Mobile,” Gendron mentioned. “They usually [each] want their portrait on a wood cut out.”
At one time Gendron sold most of her pieces on consignment in local area gift shops and by traveling a craft show circuit all over the local area. She doesn’t travel as much these days, as her reputation has spread far enough that she is able to make a comfortable living directly from her Hahnville home art studio. Her patrons now approach her directly to purchase her art.
Gendron first began her art career in the 1980s when the region experienced economic hardship after oil prices collapsed. With oil later falling to as low as $12 a barrel in 1986, her husband Louis, who was the breadwinner of her family at the time, worked as an oil and gas pipefitter and was temporarily out of work during a portion of that era. They had options to pick up work outside of Louisiana but chose not to move.
“I was raising a grandson, so we didn’t want to leave,” Gendron said, who at the time did not yet have custody of the child. “So, we went to craft shows to see if [my folk art pieces] would sell…people liked it and they paid for it, [and] it’s been that way ever since.”
Her art career has since led her to several unexpected places. One of her pieces was recently featured on a 2021 four-part Smithsonian Channel documentary called One Thousand Years of Slavery. Former New Orleans mayor and National Urban League President Marc Morial was featured on the documentary, where the subject of his ancestry and the heavy topic of slavery was covered.
“His family was enslaved at the Whitney plantation, and they used my work to fill in the spot where they didn’t have a picture, [since] I did the reproduction of the 1811 Slave Rebellion,” Gendron said.
Her 1811 Slave Rebellion painting was certified to be a historically accurate depiction by university history professors with a focus on slavery history; the work remains on display inside Destrehan Plantation.
Her folk artwork has been featured at the White House for multiple different events, under several presidents’ tenures. Photos of Gendron and former First Lady Laura Bush hang in her hallway after one of her trips to Washington D.C. Her work was also on display each year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for decades.
After having led a career as a working artist for several decades, Gendron says she has no intentions of slowing down at this juncture in her life.
“I used to tell people I’m going to live to be 120 [as a joke],” Gendron said. “Well, I might just do that now,” she chuckled.