Heart of Louisiana: The giant murals of Robert Dafford

Heart of Louisiana: The giant murals of Robert Dafford
Updated: Nov. 22, 2016 at 9:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - You have probably seen the paintings of this renowned Louisiana artist, from a giant clarinet on a New Orleans hotel, a blues harmonica on a Baton Rouge casino, and murals of Cajun history scattered across South Louisiana. The giant murals are the work of artist Robert Dafford.

When you drive into the rear parking lot at the Lafayette Parish Government building, you notice the green canopies and a second-floor terrace.

"The 3-D effect on the backside of the building is just incredible," said Cydra Wingerter, who works in the building. "You really have to get almost flat with the building to recognize that it's actually a flat painting."

The old building needed a paint job. But this takes the facelift to a new level.

"We decided to add some flair to our building to really represent who we are as a people, as a culture," Wingerter said.

It's still a work in progress, with images of oak trees and columns, an area lake, and many of the elements that represent Louisiana's Acadian culture. The murals are the work of artist Robert Dafford. If you placed all of these paintings end to end, the murals wrapped around Lafayette City Hall would measure about 500 feet. Dafford said he's using hundreds of gallons of paint. And from start to finish it will take a year to complete.

"Well there are several obvious difficulties - traffic noise, wind, rain, sun," Dafford said.

There is also the challenge of painting on bricks and using industrial-grade paints that will last for 20 years. Dafford's goal is to make all of these scenes historically accurate.

"Right now I'm just locating them and getting their basic colors, their poses," Dafford said.

The figures come from photographs of real people, dressed in period costume.

"And then I found models to exemplify each of those groups - the Spanish, the French, the African and the native people," he said.

Dafford has done the same thing in other Cajun communities like Carencro, and he has painted floodwalls in cities along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In all of the murals, there is an amazing three-dimensional look that uses the techniques of neoclassical artists.

"The depth of the color as a result of muting color as it goes back," Dafford said.

In painting a 16-story-tall clarinet on a New Orleans hotel, Dafford knew the silver keys needed to reflect their surroundings.

"I got a spoon from the cafeteria and polished it up real well and a knife handle, a round knife handle, and I could look at the actual reflections of the buildings behind me," Dafford said.

The giant mural on the side of a Lafayette building reflects the Cajun culture in the chrome images of classic cars.  Baton Rouge has a connection to early blues artists, and you find an early look at Jefferson Parish on this side of a New Orleans office building.

"These things about us, good things about us, help project the image of good things about us into ourselves, and that's a really, I think it's one of the most important things I could be doing," Dafford said.

And best of all, you don't have to go to a museum or visit a private collection to appreciate the giant paintings. You only have to slow down, pause, and look closely to experience the magic of this historical art.

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