S2020 E501 | CLIP

NYC-ARTS Choice: "Mother Sister" at American Folk Art Museum

Curator Stacy C. Hollander talks to NYC-ARTS about the work “Mother Sister May Have Sat in That Chair When She Lived in This House Before Me"" by Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, which is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.

AIRED: October 22, 2020 | 0:03:37

(uplifting music)

Next we'll visit the American Folk Art Museum.

Located across from Lincoln Center,

it is also reopened to visitors.

Since 1961, this museum has been showcasing

the creativity of artists whose talents

have been refined through personal experience

rather than formal artistic training.

Its collection includes more than 8,000 works of art

from four centuries and nearly every continent.

- Jean Marcel St. Jacques

identifies as a 12th generation afro creole from Louisiana.

Around 16 years ago when he returned to New Orleans

with his family, he bought a house

that had been a rooming house for single male musicians

run by a woman named Mother Sister.

And he bought this rooming house,

but shortly after he moved in, New Orleans experienced

the enormous heartbreaking devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Jean Marcel St. Jacques' home was destroyed

and rather than giving into despair,

he gathered the detritus of his home

and started fashioning what he called wooden quilts,

paying homage to his great-grandfather,

who was a Hoodoo man and a junk collector,

and his great-grandmother, who was a quilt maker.

If you look closely at the pieces of wood,

they are studded with nails and all the other kinds

of architectural and construction elements

that you would see in a home.

He uses house paint to paint these pieces of wood,

but he was always mindful

of the palette of his great grandmother

and her strip quilts.

When I asked him about the process

that he uses in coloring and making

and constructing his wooden quilts,

he said, "Well, like any good Creole cook,

the secret is in the roux,

but I ain't telling you all what that is."

Jean Marcel has embedded two self-portraits

among the pieces of wood and it shows him in his guise

as a spiritual leader practicing what he calls folk magic,

as the descendant of a Hoodoo Man.

The title of this piece,

"Mother's Sister May Have Sat in That Chair

When She Lived in This House Before Me,"

it's referring to Mother's Sister,

who ran the boarding home for single musicians

and there are two sides that fashion a chair.

One is upright and one is down,

so he has in fact instilled physical remains

of her presence in his home into this piece

that he has created to pay homage to his ancestors

and to his own Louisiana history

and to the suffering of those

who survived Hurricane Katrina

in his Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

(soulful music)


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