Friday, August 11, 2017

Flying Violins, ladybugs and Cajun culture in hubcaps: the Robert Dafford murals of Lafayette, Louisiana

Flying Violins
Robert Dafford is a legend in Lafayette, Louisiana, a muralist who has traveled the world creating hundreds of pieces of public art in magnificent ways. Walk around downtown Lafayette and you’ll see his paintings everywhere.

Take the “Flying Violins.” I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dafford for a DeSoto magazine feature (on Southern murals, coming up in October) and learned how he came to paint this mural I have walked past for years. In 1988, before the spring’s annual Festival International de Louisiane, in which musicians from all over the Francophone world — including Louisiana — visit Lafayette for several days of fun, Dafford was asked to paint a side of a downtown building. He chose to paint violins emerging from a swamp scene.

Till All That's Left is a Postcard
“I conceived it as a symbol of Cajun music leaving the swamps and flying out into the world,” Dafford said.

The mural represents the universality of music, an art form that pushes past the barriers of politics, language, and business, Dafford explained.

Other “Flying Violins” murals have been painted in sisters cities in France, Canada, Belgium and England, and several more are planned.

Other Dafford murals in Lafayette include:
Till All That's Left is a Postcard
“Til All That’s Left is a Postcard” -  Corner of Jefferson Street and Garfield in downtown Lafayette.

Dafford’s vibrant mural includes birds, dragonflies and other creatures escaping the Atchafalaya Basin from the encroachment of development. He painted this mural in the 1980s when people talked of developing Louisiana’s massive river drainage swamp that’s home to numerous wildlife.

“Ex-Garage” – Corner of Jefferson Street and E. Vermilion in downtown Lafayette.

This mural on the side of Jefferson Towers reflects what used to be in this spot, a parking garage. Dafford pays homage to those old cars but paints local chefs, musicians and other “Cajun characters” into the bumpers and hubcaps.

“Stereo Prairie” – 201 E. Congress St. 
This mural decorates the side of the Children’s Museum of Acadiana and includes other artists Herb Roe, Sherrie Bennet and Chris Confor.

The most recent Dafford mural to Lafayette graces City Hall (705 W. University), which used to be a Sears Department building. Like most of Dafford’s murals, the series of paintings tells the story of Lafayette’s origins and the people who called Acadiana home, including French, Spanish, African and Native Americans.

“We have international roots,” Dafford explained, adding that today’s city attracts and honors international partners. “Lafayette has always been and will always be international in its intentions, aims and goals.”

Want to know more? Check out “The Public Art of Robert Dafford,” written by and illustrated by Philip Gould, published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press.

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves public art that tells a story.

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