The Camille Series 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 only Choctaw.
There are many descendants of the Choctaws living in the New Orleans north shore area and some traditional crafts and customs are being perpetuated.

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.

Abita Mystery House     22275 Hwy 36
Abita Springs
Louisiana 70420
Telephone: 985-892-2624
©2008 John Preble

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