I drive on Tulane Avenue every day, but I don't have time to stop and look at the statue of a soldier on the side of the road. It's just one man on a pedestal. What does it commemorate?
The statue was erected in May 1970 under the auspices of Old Friends Barracks No. 640, Veterans of World War I. On one side of the pedestal are the dates of America's involvement in the war and the words of President Woodrow Wilson: "the war to end all wars." Before World War II, this conflict was known as The Great War. It was especially significant because it was the first time America sent troops to fight on European soil.
There are other monuments to those from New Orleans who served in the first World War. One is on City Park Avenue and another is the Ninth Ward Memorial Arch in Bywater. The arch was dedicated March 14, 1920, and lists more than 1,300 residents of the Ninth Ward who served in the war, including one woman who was a Red Cross nurse.
It is believed that the arch is the first permanent WWI memorial erected in the United States.
What can you tell me about Richard Thomas, the artist who has a painting at Leah Chase's restaurant?
I can only describe Richard Thomas as a gentle giant. He is a kind, soft-spoken African American who has done worlds of good for the young people he has influenced. And as you can tell from just this one painting, he is very talented.
Thomas was born and raised in New Orleans and had a job throwing newspapers when he was 14. Fortunately, Louisiana landscape artist Roland Golden was on Thomas' route, and it was Golden who gave Thomas his first paintbrush.
Thomas went to Bell Junior High School, and one day on the bus to school he sat beside an architect who admired Thomas' sketches of some of his teachers at school. The architect turned out to be an artist as well, and he invited Thomas to his home to meet his family and gave him books and advice. Thomas also spent a lot to time in the French Quarter admiring the work of the artists who worked there and asking them questions.
A graduate of Xavier University in 1978, Thomas began teaching art at McDonogh 35 High School in 1990. That year, he organized young artists into a group called Pieces of Power. This cooperative has participated in community art projects throughout New Orleans. Thomas is their mentor, friend and teacher. In 1995, he was given the Angel Award from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana for his work with the students
One clever project in 1993 was part of a New Orleans Levee board beautification effort, and Thomas worked with about 15 young artists to paint 300 garbage cans. The artists were paid $15 per can, and they deserved every penny. The cans were bright and colorful in the tradition of Southern Pop Art. I hope some of this art survived Katrina.
One piece of Thomas' art that did survive the storm is the mural titled Louis Armstrong and His Heavenly All-Star Band, which hangs on the interior parabola above the main lobby of the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Thomas designed the $150,000 mural at the request of the New Orleans Aviation Board and asked seven of the most talented Pieces of Power artists to assist him. Artists began the mural in 1996. Even if you never intend to get on a plane, it's worth a ride to Kenner just to see this amazing work of art.
Thomas' work sells worldwide and his Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest posters have become popular among collectors, but he chose New Orleans as the home for his business, Visual Jazz Arts Gallery at 2237 St. Claude Ave.