Celebrating Bayou St John: Past, Present, and Future honors the Bayou’s rich and colorful history, delights in its present, and takes a hopeful look forward to its future. In the boughs of an oak, two egrets survey the scene: though buildings and people come and go, the wildlife of Bayou St John remains a constant presence.
The oak tree bifurcates the painting, an oyster shell midden nourishing its roots. Immense shell piles–called middens by archeologists– were left by Native Americans, the first known human inhabitants of the Bayou. The shells provide both a visual and historical framework for understanding the subsequent natural and cultural history of Bayou St John. A secondary beaded border around the shells pays further homage to Native American culture: the first Native American market in New Orleans was located here in present-day Bayou St John, an early hub of commerce where beads, food, and other goods were traded and sold.
Culturally central elements of Bayou St John’s past can be seen on the left side of the oak: the Pitot House, the Old Spanish Fort, the Old Customs House, the Old Lighthouse, and buildings from the Casino and Amusement Park. Some of these structures remain today, some do not.
Culturally central elements of Bayou St John’s present can be seen on the right side: residential houses, Mardi Gras Indians during Super Sunday, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek Fest, and — of course — the music and festival tents of Bayou Boogaloo.
This year, as we celebrate the 300th birthday of New Orleans, we pause to take a look back and pay homage to our city’s beginnings and countless transformations. Then, our memories refreshed, we take an optimistic look into our future.
Emma Fick was born in Covington, Louisiana in 1991. After completing her degree in English Literature and Art History in 2013, she taught English in Serbia and began to chronicle its culture in a series of watercolor illustrations called “Snippets.” The illustrations caught on, and thanks to a grant from the U.S. Embassy, Emma returned to Serbia the next year to pursue painting full-time. After publishing her first book of illustrations, Snippets of Serbia, in 2015, she returned to New Orleans and began working on Snippets of New Orleans, which was published in 2017. In New Orleans, she shifted to fine art, with a conceptual focus on hybrids: merging Louisiana-specific symbols and ancient Byzantine frescoes; creating half-human half-bird mythological creatures; combining plant species in ways not found in nature. Her current work, all watercolor and ink on paper, explores cultural, biological, and floral hybrids and the endless permutations they allow.