Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall - St. Francisville, 200yrs.


by Anne Butler

singer at yellow leafFall in the Feliciana hills has traditionally been heralded by cooling temperatures, yellowing leaves, and the rumble of big ol’ farm trucks hauling the sweet potato harvest to the cannery near the banks of the Mississippi River below St. Francisville. For decades in the mid- to late-20th century, potatoes were the main cash crop supporting many a small farmer, whose wife often found seasonal employment on the assembly lines of the canning plant. Today there are only a few tenacious potato farmers left, so the 8th annual Yellow Leaf Arts Festival on Saturday and Sunday, October 30 and 31, from 10 to 5 in historic downtown St. Francisville’s Parker Park, pays tribute to the past significance of this staple crop in a region whose economics and way of life were once completely dependent on agriculture.

It was in the early 1940s that Harry Daniel teamed with the LSU Horticulture Department to initiate commercial sweet potato production in the St. Francisville area, where the rich soil proved perfect for the cultivation of yams that were sold locally to Princeville Canning Company, which was replaced by Joan of Arc. Big farm operations like the Daniel family planted over a thousand acres and employed a hundred workers, and small farmers contracted with the cannery for the yield on smaller plots which were often worked with mules. When the local packing houses and cannery were in full operation, at least 2500 acres in the St. Francisville area were planted in sweet potatoes, with seed potatoes set out in early spring to produce the slips planted in early summer and harvested in early fall.

The Egg Man and is helper.Yes, the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival will feature artists, more than 50 of them, but a special adjunct this year will be the mini-Sweet Potato Festival, with 40-pound crates of freshly harvested potatoes, a bake sale offering a nostalgic taste of sweet potato dishes like fries and muffins and casseroles and the pies without which no holiday dinner would be complete, even a couple of real live oldtimers reminiscing about growing this crop back in the fifties. There will also be a booth featuring sweet potato creations---culinary or craft---with everyone encouraged to bring anything made with a sweet potato, and there might even be a giant sweet potato strolling the grounds. This mini-fest is the brainchild of hardworking Jerry Landrum, who still grows Beauregard, Evangeline and Puerto Rican sweet potatoes as well as tomatoes and all the other row crops that make him a popular fixture at the local farmers’ market.

But just as the fertile fields nourished the potato crop, so the scenic landscapes of the St. Francisville area have nurtured artists of all stripes, beginning in the 1820s when artist-natural John James Audubon was so inspired by the natural beauties of the region that he painted a number of his Birds of America studies while tutoring the daughter of the plantation family at Oakley. This year’s Yellow Leaf Arts Festival brings together more than 50 artists and craftsmen showcasing their artworks.

Painting by Murrell ButlerDemonstrating in the Gazebo will be this year’s featured artist Murrell Butler, nationally recognized wildlife and landscape painter whose exacting detail and keen eye, natural talent and long years of naturalist studies give rise to comparisons of his wonderful works with those of Audubon. Of course scenes from his native Louisiana have long inspired this homegrown artist, but lately travels through the southwest and down into South and Central America have broadened his interests and have led to large landscapes featuring such scenes as an Ecuadoran volcano and the brilliantly colored toucans and other birds of the Rainforest. Butler will have prints and originals on display for the festival, which this year has the theme “Louisiana Wildlife.”

Other artists displaying their works at this festival sponsored by the local Arts For All organization, with support from the Bank of St. Francisville and St. Francisville Main Street, include painters Lyn Lokey and Martha Singer, Lisa Horn, Jane Dedon, Dody Sandifer, A.J. Spinks, Julie Kraft, Jo Busse, Kathy Chasee, and folk artist Deborah McNeal; potters Dee Lewis, Rocky Broome, Susan Rodrigue, Craig Roth, Barry and Terry Galloway; jewelry designers Catherine Rouchon, Lynette Costanza, Vero Orsinger, Lisa Lapeyrouse, Teresa Bass Lambert, Karuna Spoon, Becky Baker, Judy Tanner; candlemakers Camp Topisaw and Connie Dubois; furniture maker Wendell Dietz. There will also be wooden bowls from Dunbar McCurley and Lambert Louviere; birdhouses made by Tommy Myers and Joe and Doris Arabie; clothing and fabric art by Suzanne Holland, Debbie Ardoin, Ze and Courtney Huff; crafts by Henrietta Addison; owls by Chris Roldan; mobiles by Carolyn Weir; Margie Blake’s art glass; and Salongo Lee’s photographs. Also participating will be Holly Shoemake’s girl scout troop, the youth group from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Voices in Motion singing at 11 and an impromptu acoustic song circle at 3.

Myrtles PlantationAs if this were not enough, new this year will be another adjunct to the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival, just across the intersection, where the first Magnolia Faux Blood Music Festival at the picturesque 3-V Tourist Court will feature such popular performers as internationally known roots-rock artist Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express at Magnolia CafĂ© Saturday evening, with Jace Everett sitting in with the band and Lee Barber opening. On Sunday Darryl Hance’s three-piece blues rock band opens at 11 a.m., followed by the Texas old-school country swing band of Mike Stinson, then the roots-rock country sounds of Bill Davis and another performance by Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express. Jace Everett closes the evening with country songs. While the Yellow Leaf Arts Festival and Sweet Potato Celebration are both open free of charge, the Mag Music Festival charges admission, $20 single day, $30 two-day pass.

community Market DayThe month of October is filled with a huge variety of other activities and events as well. On Friday, October 15, and Saturday, October 16, the twenty-second annual Southern Garden Symposium presents a series of workshops bringing in gardening enthusiasts from across the South to bask in the beauties of the glorious antebellum gardens for which the St. Francisville area is justly famous. Programs feature hands-on demonstrations and talks on such widely divergent subjects as the preservation of the Rosedown Gardens and the botanical secrets of the Amazon Rainforest, plus lunch at Afton Villa Gardens, tea at The Cabildo, and Friday evening Speaker’s Gala at The Oaks. For information see www.SouthernGardenSymposium.or or call 225-635-3738.

The active St. Francisville Main Street program gets everyone into the Halloween spirit on Friday, October 22, in oak-shaded Parker Park, beginning at 5:30 p.m. with fun children’s pumpkin decorating followed at dark by the Movie Under the Stars called Monsters vs. Aliens; bring lawnchairs and blankets. Pumpkins will be provided, but you can get more at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday and Saturday mornings all month, as well as at the Klein Farms Pumpkin Patch on LA 965. This is fitting prelude to Friday, October 29, Saturday, October 30, and Sunday, October 31, when the Myrtles Plantation hosts its chilling Halloween extravaganza through a spooky historic house called one of America’s most haunted. The Audubon State Historic Site also observes the holiday on October 29 with an All Hallows Eve interactive program on Halloween superstitions and traditions of the 1800s, while the Rosedown Plantation State Historic site dons mourning garb to recreate a family funeral of the early 19th century.

Music at yellow leaf festivalsAnd there’s more! Every Sunday in October the Louisiana State Penitentiary on LA 66 at Angola puts on “The Wildest Show in the South,” with prisoner hobbycraft sales, tons of food, and hair-raising rodeo events guaranteed to be unlike any you’ve ever seen at any other rodeo. Other than the ladies’ barrel racing, all rodeo participants are inmates in this enormous maximum-security prison. The covered arena seats over 10,000 and fills up every Sunday; with road construction along US Highway 61, visitors should pack plenty of patience to cope with traffic congestion. Grounds open at 9 for the arts and crafts, and the fascinating state museum at the entrance gate will also be open. The rodeo starts at 2, and advance tickets are a must. Prison website at provides information and spells out regulations which must be observed on prison property.

While October generally offers the most pleasant weather, St. Francisville is a year-round tourist destination area featuring a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.

Oct festivalsThe nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, horseback riding with rental mounts from Cross Creek Stables. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from soul food to Chinese and Mexican cuisine, seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.

For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-635-4224; online visit (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities, including the lively monthly third Saturday morning Community Market Day in Parker Park) or