Last Modified: Monday, November 05, 2012 9:54 PM
Crossed pistols, a populace forced to cross the sea and a crossed lover are the themes of a trio of exhibits opening this week at the Imperial Calcasieu Museum.
Original sets of crossed pistols from the World War II Memorial Bridge — that’s the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River — will be on display as will be watercolor paintings depicting retired architect and artist Pat Gallaugher’s comparisons of the relationship between the original homeland of Louisiana’s Acadians and the land in which they were forced to settle following the Grand Dérangement.
The third exhibit reflects local artist Vickie Singletary’s take on composer/lyricist Maury Yeston’s song cycle, “December Songs,” which itself was inspired by Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s “Winter Journey,” or “Die Winterreise.”
Imperial Calcasieu Museum executive director Susan Reed said this is the first time the local museum has featured three exhibits at one time. An “Opening Extravaganza” for the exhibits will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday.
Eight sets of the crossed pistol motif that adorns the bridge’s railing will be on display in the museum’s library. The pistols are on permanent loan from the state Department of Transportation and Development, Reed said.
Each set of two cast iron pistols weighs 30 pounds, Reed said. Seven sets are from the original 5,286 sets that decorated the railing of the 61-year-old bridge. All of the original pistols have been replaced over time, Reed said, due to exposure to the elements, damage, etc. The seventh set in the exhibit is a replica forged at a foundry in Montgomery, Ala. None of the pistols is for sale.
The original pistols, Reed said, were forged at a Lake Charles foundry then located off what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Highway near the former Paw Paw’s Restaurant. They were made by Walter Menge, a resident of Westlake who was not only a mechanical engineer at PPG but also a metallurgist.
Menge contracted with a salesperson in Lafayette who actually sold the pistols to the state Department of Transportation and Development. She said attempts to locate that person or find out additional information about him have been unsuccessful.
Menge, a veteran of World War II who served on the USS Massachusetts, used as his inspiration pistols seen in a picture of Jean Lafitte. In that picture the pirate held the pistols as he crossed his arms over his chest. N.E. Lant, chief engineer for the highway department at the time the bridge was constructed, is credited with the idea to adorn the railing with the pirate pistols, according to a 60th anniversary article written last year by retired American Press editor Jim Beam.
The crossed pistol motif has also been used by New Orleans jewelry designer Mignon Faget in two works commissioned by Reed’s Board of Directors to help celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2013. Faget’s brushed sterling crossed pistol pin/pendants and etched double old fashioned drink glasses will be available for sale at the Opening Extravaganza.
The lands of the Acadian people — they were evicted from Nova Scotia during the Grand Derangement and forced to cross the seas before landing in Louisiana — form the basis for Gallaugher’s paintings which will hang in the museum annex just north of the main structure. Entitled The Acadian Connection, the watercolors are based on a trip Gallaugher took to Grand Pre´, Nova Scotia, and the comparisons he made between that area and the area in which the Acadians settled in Louisiana, Reed said. “The first commonality Pat noticed,” Reed said, “was water,” which is depicted in several of the paintings.
Another of the paintings contains the statue of Evangeline in Grand Pre´ as well as the Evangeline statue in St. Martinville. Attached to the painting is a copy of a deportation record Gallaugher found naming some of the evicted Acadians.
Reed said Gallaugher has a strong connection to the museum having designed the original structure as well as the Gibson-Barham Gallery. His architectural renderings of those two structures still grace the walls of the museum.
The Singletary exhibit, also to be housed in the library, will be juxtaposed with Yeston’s 12 songs which served as her inspiration. The paintings “visually tell a story of love lost,” Reed said, and “a woman’s struggle to grapple with that.”
The Gallaugher and Singletary exhibits will hang through Dec. 8, Reed said.
All three exhibits, according to the director, advance the museum’s mission.
“That mission,” Reed said, “ is to support the visual arts and local artists and to preserve the unique cultural history of the Southwest Louisiana area. These pieces do that.”
The Imperial Calcasieu Museum is located at 204 W. Sallier St. It is open from 10-5, Tuesday through Saturday. Information: 337-439-3797.
Posted By: Belinda Escoubas On: 11/6/2012
Title: Comments on Walter Menge
Thank you for this article and recognizing our father, Walter Menge, as the one who made the original pistols. Our father has passed away, but our Mother still lives in Westlake. She had been telling us that he was going to be recognized in an article, and she called as soon as the article came out. She is very proud of him! Thank you again!
Posted By: Kevin Gallaugher On: 11/6/2012
thank you for this article mentioning my father's upcoming art exhibit. However, the statement that he is a retired architect is completely erroneous. he works as an architect today, just as he has ever since graduation from the Notre Dame school of Architecture in 1948. He has never, ever been retired, not in any way, shape nor form.