Thursday, October 06, 2016

St. Francisville ROCKS!

St. Francisville ROCKS!
By Anne Butler

boy rocksIt seemed like such an innocuous, innocent little message, posted on Facebook by local med tech/mom Nancy Metz Arceneaux: “I think the painted rocks they are doing in various towns are so cool. Such a neat way to spread joy. Anyone interested in helping me get it started in St. Francisville?”

And in the way of small southern towns, word spread like wildfire, and before you knew it, there was an enticing painted rock under every bush, on every walkway, in every conceivable cubbyhole (other than mailboxes; that would be a federal offense). The little Louisiana rivertown of St. Francisville, like communities large and small all across the country, went rock crazy!

The craze, enthusiasts say, is a fun way to draw residents together, encourage creativity and pass along a positive message. It gets kids outdoors and away from technology for awhile, searching for rocks to paint themselves, carefully choosing inspirational messages or appealing images, executing the artwork, hiding the rocks and waiting for finders to excitedly post their discoveries on social media.

Mostly painted with acrylics and sealed with a spray sealant or Mod Podge, rocks can be designed and executed by all levels of artistic skill and creativity…colorful hearts or flowers, whimsical animals and birds, feather doodles, short sayings or supportive messages…executed in paints, permanent markers, fingernail polish, puff paints, embellished with tiny jewels or feathers or whatever the imagination can conceive. Concealed all over town, the painted rocks provide exciting hide-and-seek quests; they can also be used as gifts, conversation starters, paperweights, and for myriad other purposes. As Pablo Picasso put it, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” and what joy even such simple artworks as painted rocks can bring.

JoeSt. Francisville is home to a growing population of creative souls, both young and old, and many of the rocks dispersed around town are truly works of art. Musician Joe Roppolo, who plays a mean harmonica with The Delta Drifters blues band, has recently been turning out beautifully decorated didgeridoos, those Australian Aboriginal wind musical instruments. Now he has created such gorgeous rocks with the same decorations that he has inspired a whole class in Mandala painting sponsored by the local umbrella arts organization called Arts For All.

Mandalas (Sanskrit for “circles”) are spiritual, ritual symbols representing the universe in Indian religion, the word now used generically to refer to any diagram or geometric pattern representing the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically. In spiritual traditions mandalas are used to focus attention or guidance, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction. Besides, they are just plain beautiful designs in which to lose oneself and, in Gandhi’s words, “in a gentle way, you can shape the world.” Psychologists like Carl Jung have considered mandalas as representative of the Self, the wholeness of one’s personality, and have said that creating them helps to stabilize and re-order one’s inner life.

The children of St. Francisville don’t quote Picasso or Gandhi or Jung as they shriek with joy at the discovery of each special rock, running through the town park or sports facility, through cemeteries (where Easter eggs are also hunted) and along bricked sidewalks, in restaurants or boutique shops or art galleries or doctors’ offices.

rocksAnd beside each excited child is a grateful mom, one like speech pathologist Lucie Branton LeDoux. Not a week after Nancy Metz Arceneaux started the craze that swept her hometown, LeDoux posted her appreciation as she and her young son Will took a morning walk through St. Francisville looking for painted rocks and whatever else caught their fancy. “We live in the greatest town!” she said. “Took another walk this morning and here’s what happened. We talked about squirrels, why leaves can be seen in concrete, butterflies, pecans growing in trees, what a ‘memorial’ is (‘read the names again, Mama’), and what it means to ‘keep your eyes peeled’ for these beautiful rocks everyone is painting and leaving for others to find (my boy couldn’t stop smiling!) He told me our town is very pretty, everyone is so nice to each other, and he loves where we live, and I have to agree! Thank God we get to raise our children where I grew up! All that and a flower my boy picked for me! What a great morning!”

Nancy Metz Arceneaux, “mother” of St. Francisville’s rock obsession, called it “a way of bringing joy to others in a time where all we hear about is violence and hate. There are still good people in this world and in our beautiful town for sure, so why not spread LOVE instead of hate. Not only is it bringing joy to children but to adults as well.” And Lucie LeDoux added, “You know what I love most about WF Rocks (the Facebook page of the movement in St. Francisville, with images of excited children and rocks they have created or found)? It has gotten my children OFF technology and outside. Plus, we spent time as a family tonight painting rocks. How awesome is this? This is another win for children and families. This sweet little idea of yours could be game-changing for some people.”

girl rocksInspirational small-town morning strolls and painted rocks sharing the joy of life and the warm sense of community…just a few of the things St. Francisville is grateful for as Thanksgiving is celebrated. Small-town pleasures, small-town treasures.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation (check locally; it has new owners), plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. 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 periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to 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 West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit,, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).