New Orleans is by far one of my favorite cities. I truly consider it the heartbeat of America. From the food, to the music, to the people, it’s so culturally rich that you can’t help being enveloped by it when you touch down in the Bayou. While at Essence Festival 2018, I had the pleasure of visiting two Black, women-owned establishments that focus on art.
The first was the Stella Jones Gallery, located at 201 St. Charles Avenue. The gallery defines itself as “the place in New Orleans for Black art.”
Stella Jones and her husband, Harry Jones (now deceased), started the gallery in 1996 and got it together in about three weeks. The gallery currently represents a plethora of Black artists across the diaspora and has art that is focused on the Black experience.
The gallery in conjunction with Soul of New Orleans (a tour experience focused on the exposure of Black businesses and history of NOLA) hosted a luncheon where attendees were able to experience the food of New Orleans, by Chef Serigne Love.
The 24-year-old Chef educated the audience on New Orleans food and the West African history.
He made jambalaya, a New Orleans dish with West African foundations. When New Orleans was being colonized, the Europeans didn’t bring women with them. The slave women ended up cooking and you can see the African influences in many popular New Orleans dishes today. He made the jambalaya without a rue, as rue is a French influence, and used authentic Senegalese spices flown in just for the occasion.
He also made poached red fish. He explained that similar to West Africa, he went to the Farmer’s Market and bought whatever vegetables were in season.
The meal had crispy sweet potatoes and a tamarind jus. All the flavors melded together perfectly.
Chef Love finished with a dessert he created, utilizing millet, called Lakh pudding. He affectionately told the crowd, “I’ve been perfecting this dessert just for you.” Yum!
The art was phenomenal, featuring both historic and modern pieces that are influenced by everything from slavery to even Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.
The current exhibit on display is entitled, Tied To Love, and is the work of Master Quilter Phyllis Stephens. The exhibition holds a special place for the Stella Jones Gallery as it drew it’s inspiration from Harry Jones, the stylish, late co-owner of the gallery who was known for wearing bowties. Stephens has repurposed Jones’ bowties as well as others under the broad theme of Love. It’s on display through July 31st, 2018.
The second place I visited, thanks to Ford Motors, was Le Museé de f.p.c. This is a historic house that serves as a living museum dedicated to preserving the material culture of and telling the story of New Orleans’ free people of color.
By living museum, you can actually sit on the furniture, touch clothing, and more. It’s so much history within this place that you need to dedicate at least two hours. The staff is knowledgable and accomidating, answering all questions, and excited to teach the history of free people of color.
The museum was founded by George and Leah McKenna and there is African American art all over ranging from 1718 all the way to 2018. The historic house is so important as you have an opportunity to see how aristocratic Blacks lived. Often, our history is only told as slavery and oppression but there were free people of color thriving and stepping into this museum gives one the opportunity to see what life was like for them.
New Orleans’ free people of color are responsible for some of our most historical moments and contributions. Scientist Norbert Rillieux revolutionized the refining of sugar but had to go to Paris to get it patented. In Tremé (a neighborhood in New Orleans), a group of Blacks and Whites established St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. This led to the second African-American group of nuns in the United States: The Sisters Of The Holy Family.
Driving down the picturesque block in my Ford Mustang, you could mistake Le Museé de f.p.c. for one of the opulent homes on the block; however, within the structure is our history. It’s importance to see all sides of Black history. We can thrive now as we have excelled in the past.
Ford Motors hosted a 10 Years Of Sisterhood Luncheon at the museum, hiring everyone Black, from the venue, to the floral arrangements, to the dessert, which were cupcakes that were specially created by the Cupcake Fairies. Ford has really been leaning into their entrepreneurs and helping to elevate women.
Beauties, on your next visit to New Orleans, make sure you take the time to visit these sites preserving and celebrating our history. You can find out more about the Stella Jones Gallery, here (all the art displayed is for sale!). You can find out about Le Museé de f.p.c. and schedule a tour, here.