Heart of Louisiana: Robert Dafford's Lafayette Murals

Heart of Louisiana: Robert Dafford's Lafayette Murals
Published: Mar. 13, 2018 at 7:37 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 13, 2018 at 9:25 PM CDT
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LAFAYETTE, 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.

When we first met artist Robert Dafford, he was in the middle of creating murals on a government building in downtown Lafayette. Now those paintings are complete.

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 government worker Cydra Wingerter. "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 face lift 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.

As the artist works his way around the building, you see painted oak trees and columns, an area lake and many of the elements that represent Louisiana's Acadian culture. The murals are the work of Robert Dafford

If you placed all of these paintings end to end, the murals wrapped around Lafayette City Hall would measure about 500 feet.

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

There is also the challenge of painting on bricks and using industrial-grade paints that will last for 20 years.

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

The figures he paints 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," Dafford 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 is a result of muting color as it goes back," Dafford said.

In painting this 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.

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.

A few months later, the work is done. The Lafayette City Hall murals are striking - like this scene of nearby Lake Martin. And on another wall, all of the things that you associate with the Lafayette region.

"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 these giant paintings. You only have to slow down, pause and look closely to experience the magic of this historical art.

You can see Dafford's murals on the Lafayette Consolidated Government Building in downtown Lafayette.

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