A Story of the Historical Mural in St. Charles Parish Named “A History of St. Charles Parish” by Artist Hans Geist
Dedicated to the Citizens of St. Charles Parish (June 2014)
By the St. Charles Museum and Historical Association
St. Charles Museum & Historical Association and its predecessor, the St. Charles Historical Foundation, partnered with many agencies for almost twenty years to bring enhancements to St. Charles Parish’s Mile of History. Members of the Historical Association discussed for many years the possibility of commissioning an artist to create a mural in the “Mile of History” in Destrehan to display the rich history of St. Charles Parish. The Mile of History was officially designated by the St. Charles Parish Council October 2007 to recognize the many symbols of a remarkable heritage which remain in that particular stretch along LA 48 River Road in Destrehan from Destrehan Plantation to Van’s Lane, New Sarpy: Anse Aux Outardes (Bustard’s Cove, where Iberville & Bienville met and entered St. Charles Parish), Ormond Plantation, St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery and Church (Little Red Church) and Destrehan Plantation, all of which are surrounded by centuries old live oaks standing as sentinels to guard the history.
Historical Association members always felt that the east wall of Cashio’s Food Villa in Destrehan offered multiple reasons for being the perfect site. The large, white, blank wall, highly visible to the thousands of vehicles travelling this stretch of River Road daily, would serve as the perfect pallet for an artist. Ample parking ‘Nas available for viewing the mural as well as space for walking the timeline. Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Johnny Cashio, owner of Cashio’s Food Villa, graciously agreed to allow the mural even though his business was for sale.
Finally, in 2013 the stars began to align and a committee was appointed to begin the arduous work of creating a mural. Committee Chair Betty Claudet noticed the beautiful and unique artwork of Louisiana muralist Hans Geist on her visits to the city of Houma in Terrebonne Parish. Committee members visited the Geist murals, met with the artist, and without hesitation recommended that the Board commission Geist to paint the mural in St. Charles Parish. Mr. Cashio agreed to lease the east wall of his Food Villa to the Association. Attorney Louis Authement prepared the lease agreement pro bono for the group. The Association has been responsible for all costs associated with the mural: artist fees, wall prep, lighting improvements, security cameras, landscaping, relocation of a utility line, etc.
Committee members immediately began meeting with artist Hans Geist to work out the details of the mural. What a glorious coincidence that a German artist would share with us a love of our German roots and oh!, so patiently, work with committee members Claudet, Harriet Williamson, Marilyn Richoux, and Joan Becnel for over a year to tell the story of our heritage. After struggling for several meetings, members decided to use the timeline and contJnt of the book published by the Association in 2010, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History,* as a basis for the mural. Committee members were dedicated to selecting the most important and representative aspects of the history condensed into a composite that would tell a compelling story. But how do you begin condensing over 300 years of history onto a wall? Months and months rolled by as draft after draft from the artist were presented then revised. Geist was given approval to begin after almost a year of revisions. Half of the mural was painted on panels in Gray, Louisiana at the Geist residence/studio and installed on the mural wall. The other half of the mural was painted directly onto the wall. Many last minute historical changes were made even as the artist worked. A few changes took place after completion. A dedication plaque was installed at the site to further enhance the project.
As artist Geist began his work on the wall, the community responded. Residents and tourists alike enjoyed stopping by the mural to visit and chat with the artist as he worked on the mural. The public was in awe of the beautiful colors and charming characters which began to appear in the Geist artwork.
Over three centuries, more than three hundred years of history, condensed to a 130 foot by 14 foot wall. Geist noted that he used about 30 gallons of paint, primer and coatings. He was sometimes assisted by his friend and co-worker Alvin Naquin. Geist hoped his artwork would inspire and spark interest as well as educate and inform the community about the Parish’s history. He hoped the younger generation would see these illustrations and be compelled to learn more about their history. It would appear that this is happening already.
Cashio’s Food Villa has been sold and is now River Road Market located at 13572 River Road, Highway 48, in Destrehan. David Matherne is the new owner and he not only loves the mural but sells the book: St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History.
This latest project of the Historical Association, a mural entitled, “A History of St. Charles Parish” by Louisiana Muralist Hans Geist, is just another example of the organization’s tireless efforts to bring the history of St. Charles Parish to the community. Currently under construction, but available for viewing, is the association’s new virtual museum website www.historyofstcharlesparish.org.
*It is appropriate to note for publication of this article in Les Voyageurs that the founder and first president of the German-Acadian Coast Historical & Genealogical Society, Fay Walker Louque, was the main editor and valued contributor to St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History authored by Joan Becnel, Marilyn Richoux & Suzanne Friloux. Louque spent decades researching and bringing the history of St. Charles Parish to the community. Her research is reflected in the historical content of the mural.