Unearth NOLA With Brandi Couvillon From Waregarden Studio

Text and collage by Amber Guidry

Art can sometimes inspire motivation, excitement, even happiness in my personal life.  Sometimes it makes me wonder…who gave the three year old a paintbrush?? Either way my mind can get lost imagining how the creation of each piece unfolds. Usually it intrigues me to question the journey that inspires each artist “to create”.

The journey of Waregarden Studio’s Brandi Couvillion has led her to dig tunnels that could possibly cave in around her, to un-nest a flying New Orleanian roach colony, to scale the mountains of Peru in hopes of uncovering a remnant from the past. Ok so maybe not Peru but who’s to say its not on her bucket list of exploratory sites.

In Brandi’s own words, “Wrenching up history from the ground and reassembling it into something expressing the decaying grandeur and melancholy of New Orleans is what I strive for…” Read on below for the personal inspiring journey of the artist and owner of Waregarden Studio.

The mixed media artwork and jewelry lines of New Orleans local, Brandi Couvillion is currently available at various galleries and museums, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, as well as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Southern Craft and Design later this month.

“My adventure of delving into the past, into the privies/outhouses of our ancestors, technically begins with a 5-6 foot metal probe, testing the ground below to determine what may lie there. I often can’t help myself but to just start digging the hard, impacted earth recklessly with the most fervent passion.  It is one of the only times when I feel at one with the universe and in deep meditation.

Obviously, the closer to the historic neighborhoods of New Orleans, the more likely you are to find objects of desire. Being practically on the Saulet Plantation grounds, I thought I might have some good fortune for my interests, which are vast. In my own expansive backyard (in a historic district) we probed the majority of it. My hard-core diggers (who have done it for 40+ years) didn’t think we’d find anything of the pre-Civil War. They are mostly interested in old bottles, which I love, but I find excitement in old ceramic pipes, hand painted ceramic marbles, porcelain doll parts – really anything that will tell a tale of that land and its previous inhabitants.

We had come across three layers of courtyards in digging the pond – old, soft red brick, then flagstone and finally new brick from all over the country. I continued to dig a few feet down and started pulling up more flagstone (which had initials carved into it – how romantic!) and, of course, brick.  Soon, I had burrowed a tunnel about a yard wide and several yards long, maybe about 3 feet down. We called it the tiger trap because it was right by the shed and quite a dangerous location with only my handmade bamboo covering on top of the initial hole.  Soon, the pond was threatening to collapse, so I started burrowing in the other direction.  Unfortunately, there are some frightening things down there – being trapped in a hole that could collapse as you freak out from the huge cockroach nest you just disturbed!

During my digging, I eventually fell into a time where I was literally fingering through every handful of dirt – every single piece of the past would be felt.  Most of the time people sift through this, but it was more personal to me.  I wanted to see every hand cut nail tossed out, each piece of decorative ceramic tile that once adorned the fireplaces, indications of when they restored the plaster (large lumps poured into the earth as if it was a mold), or when they removed the coved ceilings in certain rooms.  

In the harshest of summer weeks, I would take a break from digging and it was then that I noticed the beautiful fern that grew in the moist, cooler burrow. I’ve saved some of it to dry and I use it now on my new line, Ephemera, which embosses antique laces from items worn to shreds and botanicals from special places in my life and in the world. The most unusual thing I found in my own backyard was a bone toothbrush (without bristles, of course) that has “France” engraved on it!  

But my all time biggest find, in my nostalgic mind, was what ultimately turned out to be 100 Pre and Victorian shoes/boots.  They were mostly shoe soles, as the leather is quickly eaten away, but I still found the harder leather soles and wooden heels intact. I did, however, find a few baby “boots” with the amazing Victorian design and buttons up the side. Among this, I’ve found the most elegant porcelain plates/basins, etc., a New Orleans luxury tax token, tiny porcelain tea sets and numerous doll parts, to only name a few. The privies were very caustic when they were active, some 100-200 years ago, so things broken down very quickly, but these musty, insect ridden shoe soles are probably some of the most meaningful to me.  Was it a cobbler who just threw the shoes he couldn’t repair in the back?  How have some of them remained intact? I actively use them in my Assemblages, as to me the Soles represent the Souls before us…

I am ecstatic to be unveiling a brand new jewelry line using the porcelain shards – Privy’s Porcelain – which incorporates the most elegant 1800’s patterns into my designs from some of the most stunning china manufacturing companies. Interestingly, a large amount seem to be traced back to England. And I have found some of the same patterns in completely different neighborhoods!

It is compelling to look at the translucency, design detail and accuracy of these pieces – scenes of the most exotic countrysides filled with animals and even people in 1800’s dress adorn these precious pieces of the past.

I believe The Past is Present….in every way you can interpret it… I am tremendously excited to be able to share these experiences with everyone.”

Brandi Couvillion
The Waregarden Studio
1221 Annunciation St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 717-1433

Be sure to sign up for Brandi’s blog updates and gallery showings on her website at http://www.waregardenstudio.com/contact.html

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