New Orleans At Dawn
“New Orleans at Dawn” is an 8×10 oil canvas that captures energies collected on my first visit to the historic city on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The year was 1972; the beginning of my Sam Cooke’s, “I Know a Change is Gonna Come,” moments. I arrived with my five month old daughter strapped to my back two weeks before Mahalia Jackson’s body arrived for burial. Although it was bitterly cold, it didn’t stop the round the clock celebration of life for the greatest gospel singer of all time. The death of Miss Jackson allowed me to take shelter with the masses from the grief of learning of my own grandmother’s death.
I’d been summoned to New Orleans by the councils and spirits of the grandmothers. I needed to reconnect to memories long since archived away. The first summons came to me one night, a few weeks after giving birth to my daughter, when my beloved grandmother, who I hadn’t seen or spoken with in over a year, made a spirit visit to me. I saw and heard her as clearly as though she stood beside me as she told me she had died. She left the world abandoned by the one she raised as her own. I kicked and screamed, following her down a long white corridor begging her to please let me die too. She turned and told me, “No, you can’t go, you have that beautiful little girl to raise. Besides, you’ve got a lot of mess to clean up before you leave here. I won’t have anyone thinking I raised you wrong.” She disappeared as gently as she’d appeared.
I knew at that moment the reality of my life for the past several years. The consequences of my past actions and alliances crushed me in sorrow. I knew I had to be a good mother; to break the chain of horror my brother and I endured as toddlers. Our father, coward and fearful man that he was, had killed our mother and himself a few days after my first birthday, plunging us into a near-lifetime of dysfunction. I needed to be shown a path to heal myself to prevent that same dark passage of pain to be passed down to future generations by me. I had to break the chain of torment heaped upon us. I had to slay dragons and the preparation for that required being bathed in rituals of ancient rhythms and vibrations where space, distance and time is still pregnant with spirits commingled in soils and sediments of generational triumphs and sorrows. I had to figuratively breathe in the oxygen of trees and grasses of a richer energy and stir back into the greater universal energy and purpose. I began by leaving Harry, the abusive Machiavellian personality who had once so totally captivated me.
I was at a crossroads and though I didn’t know it at the time I was about to find myself in the racially and spiritually complex city of New Orleans. A friend had asked me to check in on his grandmother who had recently suffered a heart attack. So I did, and Miss Rose, a spiritual warrior and devoted spirit of the grandmothers, told me, “You know, I was supposed to die with the last heart attack. God promised me I could come home. Then, you and the baby showed up and I agreed to a change of plans.”
I painted “New Orleans at Dawn” in the fall of that year. It is a celebration of my introduction and renewal of spirit connections to the council and spirit of the grandmothers and their confidence that I was on a path they believed to be the equitable resolution for the consequences of my past behavior.
The figure of the woman, still embedded in shadows, is clearly of a substance emerging from the blacks and blues. She is willing to anticipate gaiety by wearing a green dress and using red feathers as a head ornament. Four years later, two weeks after my return home to Los Angeles, Miss Rose died of the same heart attack sheâ€™d had weeks before we first met. She had pledged to God to live until I returned home to my family.