Trahan sculpture exhibition opens at WBR |
Sculptures by local artist Ronald Trahan are now on display in an ongoing exhibit at the West Baton Rouge Museum. February 18 marked the official opening of Rooting Metal: The Trahan Gallery, celebrating his metal sculptures and other works of art as well as his family history.
The man quietly greeted guests of his notable height of around 6’4″ alongside his brother, Phillip Trahan. The entertainer was by far the tallest man in the room at all times, but with a reserved and gently welcoming nature.A subtle closed-mouthed smile was on his face when he didn’t answer questions or greetings, seemingly composed of deserving pride – without an inflated ego.
Acquisitions from the collection of the West Baton Rouge Museum are displayed in a sparse room on simple bookshelves and white walls. Photos from the New Orleans Jazz Festival, where Trahan’s work garnered national attention, hang happily along with other photos of the artist at work. A snapshot of the artist’s current studio on Rosedale Road in Port Allen has been extended to fit the entire wall opposite the sculpture collection. The illustrated room is a perfect contradiction to the intentional simplicity of the museum.
The shop photo captures materials and tools covering every square inch of the mostly messy workspace and wall. Open drawers, a wheelchair, bits of wood, scrap metal and the artist come together in suspended time. It was a pleasure to see the birthplace of his pieces with stunning gesture and inferred movement. He forges the beauty of chaos.
Trahan learned to braze metal in his youth. He worked with a torch and a little advice from his uncle in New Orleans who had a machine shop. The learning curve was messy. Trahan said it took him “about a month or two, but I was burning stuff and dripping on the floor…” before he really understood.
Bennet Rhodes, the co-curator who has known Trahan for more than 20 years, said on Friday: “He [Trahan] capturing moments – those perfect moments – those that transcend…” He gestured to a large piece of two dancing figures: a woman supported by a male partner in an enthusiastic plunge. “This one is spectacular; her parents are dancing.
Rhodes was a major advocate for documenting the work, accomplishments, lineage of artists who influenced Trahan, and his family’s connection to West Baton Rouge. Of Trahan’s work, Rhodes said, “It’s art history. It is this history that they do not write.
In a series of shorts, Rhodes documented Trahan discussing his early days in metalworking, inspirations from nature, and more. These video links can be found on the WBR Museum Facebook page.
The museum also highlights the rich history of the Trahan family. Ronald Trahan’s great-grandfather, Valery Trahan, Sr., was enslaved at the Allendale Plantation in Port Allen. Valery Trahan, Sr. was a valet to Mr. Henry Watkins Allen before becoming a discharged man after his Civil War service. Allen was the governor of Louisiana. A piece made by Ronald Trahan on display is a head with the spirit exposed, which is a representation of his great-grandfather.
Naturally, the music – which surrounded and influenced Trahan in much of his youth according to the museum’s findings – was also at the opening on Friday. The band Westwind with Sonybird played in front of a crowd of about 100 people with smiles and swaying. At one point in the evening, Terrance “Key-west” West circled the halls with a saxophone, inviting some to come onto the dance floor.
When asked how long it took him to create his art – for example, the collection tree displayed – he replied: “About 2 weeks – but you see, I don’t – when I was doing these parts, I was working and when I got off work, I did these parts in the afternoon. So it wasn’t a consistent job, but when I left work, I did.” Trahan had worked for days as a painter and carpenter.