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Monday, September 01, 2014
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Editorial: George Rodrigue 1944-2013

Last Modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 12:01 AM

Artist. Advocate. Ambassador. All of those descriptions aptly paint famed New Iberia native George Rodrigue, who died Saturday from complications of lung cancer. He was 69.

Some in Louisiana may not know Rodrigue’s name, but odds are every resident knows his iconic creation — Blue Dog. Rodrigue’s whimsical canine is every bit a part of the Bayou State as Dixieland jazz, Mardi Gras parades and Tabasco.

Stricken with polio at the age of 8, Rodrigue first began painting when his mother purchased a paint-by-the-numbers set to help him overcome the boredom during his four-month recuperation.

He was hooked. He studied art at the University of Southwestern Louisiana for a year and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles.

Rodrigue found his inspiration in his Cajun roots and beloved bayous. He first began painting landscapes that normally featured an oak tree that is so prominent in south Louisiana. Later, he introduced figures and family scenes that represented his Cajun heritage.

At age 40, he painted his first Blue Dog with red eyes and white snout. Blue Dog’s roots came from the Cajun legend of the loup-garou, the werewolf that supposedly lurked in the marshes of south Louisiana and were a particular warning by parents and grandparents to their misbehaving children. Blue Dog’s inspiration also came from Rodrigue’s life — looking much like his terrier, Tiffany, that had died four years before he first painted it.

As Blue Dog evolved, its eyes — Rodrigue insisted that Blue Dog was neither male or female — turned yellow in a rather quizzical stare.

‘‘The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog,’’ Rodrigue said in an interview with the New York Times. ‘‘He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.’’

Rodrigue said the Blue Dog paintings are about life, ‘‘about mankind searching for answers.’’

‘‘The dog never changes position. He just stares at you, and you’re looking at him, looking for some answers,’’ said Rodrigue. ‘‘The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”

Along the way in his career, Rodrigue did find answers. True to his Cajun roots, he gave back in terms of time and donations and a foundation that benefitted thousands.

In a 2011 interview with the American Press, Rodrigue advised, ‘‘... if you really want to create and choose art as a profession, then you have to find something in your life that is unique to you and that you want to express.’’

Shortly afterward he inspired hundreds of children and their parents when he presided over a “Sidewalk Chalk with George,” in the parking lot of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum on Sallier Street.

George Rodrigue may be gone. But his handiwork, genius and example of giving back lives on.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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