of Oil Paintings by John Preble
John Preble painted the first painting of this series in 1985.
The painting was created for a neighborhood exhibition in Abita
Springs where Preble lives. Abita Springs, an old resort town, is
an artist colony near New Orleans. Since then, paintings from this
series have been sought after by art collectors world wide.
Camille is no individual person. She is simply a spirit of the
Créole Indians that inhabit the shores of Lake Pontchartrain
area north of New Orleans. In 1770 when the first French explored
this north shore area they discovered the native Choctaw Indians.
French families settled the area soon after. Later when French were
established, Negro families moved in the area and added another
ethnic spice to the community.
As early as 1600 BC the New Orleans north shore was populated by
the Choctaw nation. The names of area waterways, Bonfouca, Abita,
Bogue Falaya, and Tchefuncte are Choctaw expressions. The Choctaw
Indians introduced the early New Orleanians to gumbo filé
the powdered dried leaves of the sassafras tree. Gumbo filé
is an essential flavoring and thickening ingredient of gumbo and
other Créole dishes. It has a flavor resembling that of root
beer and is generally added after cooking, when the food has been
removed from the heat, but still hot.
By 1748, the town of Lacombe had been established on Bayou Lacombe.
The bayou was and still is a poplar are for hunting, fishing, and
crabbing. Lacombe had the reputation as a refuge for runaway slaves.
Long ago, this northern bank of Lake Pontchartrain was known as
the enchanted land. The landscape of this beautiful area includes
marshes, sandy beaches, clear spring fed creeks, tall pines, and
giant live oaks.
Choctaws sold their handcrafted baskets and herbs at the French
Market in New Orleans. It was reported that the Indians came to
the market dressed partly in European garb, but also wearing silver,
beads, and bright colors. Creole families used Choctaw basketry
for clothes hampers and storage containers, in the kitchen baskets
held cutlery, fruit, and other everyday objects. Creoles integrated
with the Choctaw - sharing traditions, games and folk lore. They
hunted together, fished together, and played Choctaw stickball.
The Creoles enjoyed stickball, calling it Raquette, the game became
one of the more popular Louisiana sports.
The Louisiana Choctaw influenced the New Orleans Creoles’
literature, poetry, and paintings. While many of the Anglo Americans
killed, abused, and ridicule the Choctaws the Creole planters wisely
advised the Indians not to retaliate, for fear they would annihilate
the Choctaws completely. By the mid 1800s, many Choctaws lived on
Creole plantations for under the protection of the prosperous Creoles.
Each spring the Choctaws from neighboring states would meet at
a night time ritual called the “corn feast.” During
this meeting included ritualized animal dances, sun worship, and
"calling for rain."
By the early decades of the twentieth century only a handful of
Choctaw survived at Bayou Lacombe. They lived in poverty in raised
small shotgun houses. The Choctaw, like everyone else in the area
were abandoned by the sawmills after the piney woods were clear
cut. Their old skills, basketry, hide tanning, beadwork, silversmithing,
simple farming, and trapping or hunting helped them survive. Their
beautiful baskets were made of cane and palmetto. Only six full-blooded
Choctaws were living in Bayou Lacombe in 1939 and some still spoke
There are many descendants of the Choctaws living in the New Orleans
north shore area and some traditional crafts and customs are being
Their most unusual tradition is their observance of All Saints'
Day, honoring local gravesites by placing lighted candles around
each grave. At these ceremonies, local worshipers gather to bestow
reverence to their departed ancestors.
The Camille Paintings remind viewers of Gauguin’s work because
Gauguin is also known for his paintings of tropical people in tropical
settings. Instead of Tahiti, Preble has the tropics of Louisiana
for his back drops. In the deep Gulf South one finds Spanish moss,
slow moving bayous, steamy swamps, hazy marshes, Native Americans,
Creoles, and mystery. Preble admits his admiration for Gauguin;
he also appreciates the work of the Hudson River artists, Herman
Herzog, Thomas Moran, and M. J. Heade.
The paintings encourage an active relationship between subject
and viewer by establishing eye contact. Viewers quickly become intimate
with these paintings.
Works from the Camille series are in numerous collections and have
been exhibited at various galleries and museums including the New
Orleans Museum of Art.