Cooper is perhaps best known for her portraits of Mardi Gras Indians and second-line parade marchers as well as society matrons dressed to the nines, works with the sort of instant charisma that can sometimes make them seem almost clichéd but not always. Edna Mae Klein's Easter Outfit, 1991, is an extraordinary portrait of an aging matron in a pink outfit sitting in her equally pink parlor a kind of overstuffed domestic piñata festooned with rococo ceramic fruit and cherubs and no end of frou-frou. It's way-over-the-top and certainly not to everyone's taste, but it's also amazing, dazzling in its own weirdly hypnotic way. And while Klein is white, her flair for the dramatic is shared by a number of African-American church ladies whose hats and outfits seem designed to give Mardi Gras Indians a run for their money. It's unlikely that any of these folks has a subscription to Vogue, but that's not the point. Their outfits are all about self-expression, about being all that you can be without regimentation or artificial limits. Fortunately for us, Judy Cooper was there to document their moments of glory.
A somewhat different approach to portraiture appears in José Torres Tama's series of 18 expressionistic pastel portraits of trailblazing Gens de Couleur Libre, or "free people of color." Before the Civil War, New Orleans was home to thousands of African-American professionals and entrepreneurs. Some came from Europe and the Caribbean, others were homegrown, but all left their mark, perhaps most visibly in neighborhoods such as the French Quarter as well as Marigny and Tremé, which were largely built by Creole craftsmen.
So here we have Marie Laveau, the legendary voodoo priestess and beautician; Edmond Dede, a classical composer and violinist; and Rose Nicaud, an African woman who bought herself out of slavery by starting the first French Market coffee stand all dynamically executed in living color. Inspired by old photos, Torres Tama created the portraits under the auspices of the Ogden Museum's "Artist and Sense of Place" residency program.