Heart of Louisiana: Working with bousilliage

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It's a construction material similar to the adobe used by Native Americans in the southwestern United States. But instead of mixing straw with clay, Louisiana Cajuns used moss. That ancient art is getting new life with the help of a Cajun artist. FOX 8's Dave McNamara explains in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

"You can see the moss fibers that are within it," said artist Dale Pierrottie. "That's what holds it all together. "You wet it every day or two or three, you let it rot and flip it over on the other side, let it decompose."

Cajuns call the material bousilliage. From the late 1700s through the mid-1800s it was used to fill the walls of South Louisiana homes.

"So basically the loaves are just saddled over and packed in solid. And eventually what you end up with is a big, solid four-inch thick wall of bousilliage," Pierrottie said.

Pierrottie got his start working with bousilliage nearly 30 years ago when he built a chimney for the movie Belizaire the Cajun. Since then, he has repaired historic structures and turned his work into art.

"It's been a process over time because people would say, 'oh you are the expert.' I said 'no all of the experts are dead.' It's folk art, or funk art as I call it," Pierrottie said. "A little different, it's not like anybody - I haven't found anybody that did bousilliage art that I know of."

You can't just grab a handful of dirt and throw in some moss and water and make bousilliage. You have to dig a little deeper down to the clay in order for it to work. And clays from different regions of the state have a different color.

"I did one layer with the black clay with bousilliage and then I kind of paint over it with different clays that I have and do designs on it and had stuff to it," Pierrottie said.

Pierrottie's home is filled with an odd collection of his art, some of it representing Cajun culture and other pieces that are more contemporary.

"Here's Little Richard, still rocking," Pierrottie said.

And he's also drawing attention to a part of Cajun culture that is on display in a new and interesting way.

Pierrottie occasionally does demonstrations and exhibits at Louisiana festivals. For more information, click here.