Tag Archives: meet the artist

Meet the Artist: Linda Lavender Ford

No matter who they are, every person in Northeast Louisiana can immediately recognize the name Linda Lavender. When I heard that name, I thought of the all the flashy Twin City Ballet recitals I have attended, the iconic Ballet Under the Stars performances in Kiroli Park, and of course the famous Christmas Gala plays I went to every year of elementary school; to sum it all up, I thought of extravagance and the biggest arts powerhouse in our area. However, I realized when I was presented with that name, I thought of literally everything other than an actual individual, and that made me start to think. The name just felt like an unattainable and unidentifiable person; why did everyone know the name Linda Lavender but they did not know Linda Lavender?

As it is the last week of my summer internship for the Northeast Arts Council, my final assignment was to “write about whatever I wanted to and to have fun with it.” Not to mention, I was also finally given the approval to write in first person. I racked my brain for an underrated event I have always wanted to share about or an influential artist I’ve always wanted to know more about, and then it came to me: Linda Lavender.

I emailed a couple questions to Linda with the mindset she would never reply; where would an unbelievably successful local celebrity find the time to type out lengthy answers for a teenage intern? And then I got an email informing me Linda Lavender Ford wanted to have a phone interview with me. With my heart pounding out of my chest, I grabbed my phone and dialed her number. I expected to have a speedy five minute Q and A where I read off the questions and she rapidly gave her answers, but I ended up having a lengthy heartfelt conversation which I will remember for the rest of my life:

So now, what do I think of when I hear the name Linda Lavender Ford?

I think of a small girl who was born in Mississippi and grew up in West Monroe- a little girl who was from a very poor family with a mother who was a factory worker and a father who was a mechanic. That little girl’s parents made sure they could give their daughter the best training in the best dance studio available. When the little girl grew up to be a teenager, she was discovered and was invited to become a dancer and hostess for the KNOE television show, Happiness Exchange.

I picture a stubborn teenager telling her mother she didn’t want to teach dance when she graduated high school because she was going to school in New York City to be a performer, even though her family could not afford to send her to the dance academy. However, when that recent West Monroe High School graduate began to teach dance, she knew it was her calling.

I see a young woman who built Linda Lavender School of Dance from the ground up and founded the Twin City Ballet Company. That company is now an honor member of Regional Dance America and has four directors and three season performances. In addition, it gives dancers the opportunities for scholarships and the ability to further their dance careers.

I hear a woman, who has taught dance for 57 years, asking me about myself and telling me how she is proud of me for aspiring to be an arts educator one day. I hear her giving me the advice to make every effort to bring the best I can to my students and to continually keep my mind open to learning.

Most importantly, I know a strong and driven woman who recognizes the talent every individual possesses and who utilizes art to allow them to see the worth in themselves. She is a kindhearted and humble woman who pays respect not to herself, but to the power of the arts and to divine intervention.

“I still say that this area is especially gifted with talent. I always say I can’t imagine a child not getting to dance. I just feel like it’s a terrible mistake when they do not get to because I know what it has meant to me and what it means to so many people.” -Linda Lavender Ford

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Meet the Artist: Doug Breckenridge

As we continue our new blog series, Meet the Artist, we believe it would be an absolute pleasure for our community to get to know its hometown artists of all disciplines and what awesome feats they are accomplishing to transform our 318! This week, we had the privilege of interviewing local artist and architect, Doug Breckenridge.

Blend of the Bayou 2018 Doug Breckenridge

Q: Tell me about your background; where are you from, what was your childhood like, what is your family like?

A: I was born and raised in Monroe, but spent several years in both Longview and Houston, Texas. I have been around the building industry all my life; my grandfather owned a building supply business and my Dad was a commercial building contractor. My father had studied architecture before going to WWII, but finished in Industrial Management in order to get out of school and start life, as he put it – in essence, he had a high degree of design talent that you do not typically find in a contractor. My early homes were designed by my Dad and were what is referred to today as “Mid-Century Modern”. When we would travel, we usually spent a good bit of time evaluating the local architecture. I guess you could say that I cultivated a sense of design from a very early age. My mother was always in the process of re-educating herself and taking on new careers when it was not the norm for women to do so. She did not retire until she was 88 and probably had 5 or 6 careers under her belt. She did everything from teach English at Neville High School to manage an office building in Atlanta.

Q: When did your passion for painting begin, and why are you so passionate about it?

A: I had a passion for art and architecture beginning at a very early age. For my 7th birthday, I got an easel, a pad of paper and some water colors, where I proceeded to unintentionally paint abstracts not fully understanding gravity and the nature of water colors. The school system in those days had an art appreciation program where students learned 5 paintings and their artist, and were then presented with a little painting in a booklet. I absolutely loved this and recall getting “View of Toledo”  by El Greco in the first grade.  I have loved landscapes ever since. Through the years I never lost interest in art, especially when it pertained to cityscapes and landscapes. Later, I would sit for hours drawing people from my mother’s magazines and got where I could draw people from memory – this came in handy when I became an architect and began to do renderings to illustrate my designs. I briefly painted in the mid 70’s and then picked it up again early in this century. I have noticed that with me, any kind of creative process sets off some kind of chemistry in my brain that is highly addictive. A doctor friend of mine, once told me that he had this internal passion to help people; I have found that I have an internal passion to create, whether it be through art, architecture or writing. I have also noticed that every hobby in which I am involved, has to have some level of artistic quality. For example, I prefer sailing to motor boating and fly fishing to bait casting.

View of Toledo by El Greco

View of Toledo by El Greco

Q: Can you talk about your affiliation with the Downtown Gallery Crawl and what the Crawl means to you?

A: I became involved in the Art Crawl in October of 2017 and was uncertain about it at first in that I did not think that I would have the time to keep up with my painting; however, I have found that you can just about find time for anything if you challenge yourself to do so. I think that it is important for anyone involved in art to have a community presence no matter if they sell something or not and that is what the Art Crawl does – it puts you out there in all your glory or lack of. I love to talk with people who are looking at my art and quiz them on what they like or do not like.  I like to see where they are coming from and if I ever hear the statement, “It speaks to me”, then I have a sell – not that I hear that a lot.  Another aspect of the Art Crawl I have found is that while my on site sales are very limited, I get a fair amount of people calling me at later dates who have been either thinking of a piece they saw or are curious to see other pieces I have done. This actually happens quite often.

Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in architecture?

A: As stated before, I have had a lifelong experience with architecture and it is a true passion. I originally graduated in Business and went to work for my Dad’s construction firm, but he unfortunately passed away shortly after I began work.  My family sold the construction firm roughly 4 years later and I then decided to return to school in architecture. I found that my passion for architecture and design in general far exceeded that for construction. I just had the aptitudes for it. I don’t think it is as financially lucrative as construction, but you can’t fight innate desires. I have heard architecture described as the most lucrative of the arts and the least lucrative of the professions – I agree with this from both sides. Architecture is an art when practiced to its most sincere level. I read a piece in the back of an Art’s magazine where they interviewed several young artist and asked them, “If you were not an artist, what would you be?”  To my surprise, well over half of them said either an architect or a writer – there is a common thread here.

Q: How would you describe your personal style for art and architecture?  

A: I definitely like certain styles and such, but I am really not hung up in following trends of any kind. In both regards, I kind of set my own path and have found varying degrees of success with both disciplines. I designed shopping malls and life style centers all across the country for many years and while most legitimate architects did not really consider this to be “true” architecture; I had a blast, because I could come up with any design I wished and most developers would buy off on it. Being creative is very important in highly competitive retail arenas. Before doing a life style center in Lake Havasu, Arizona, I rode around in the desert and photographed the desert landscape and then by computer arranged a color palette of 16 colors derived from the photos. I applied these colors to my buildings and when completed, the center looked like it emerged directly from the desert. In my painting, and since it is basically an avocation and not a profession, I really apply my rule of doing what I want and what makes me feel good in lieu of attempting to set the art world on fire. I like genre painting in the since of painting everyday people doing everyday things and knowing just who these people are. I like local cityscapes and I adore landscapes, particularly those out West where I do most of my fly fishing. This certainly not to say that I don’t appreciate “non-objective art” because I really do, as I do all design; it just does not satisfy whatever in me needs to be satisfied.

Doug Breckenridge - railroad bridge

Q: I know you serve on the board for the Cooley House Foundation; can you tell me about the Foundation’s mission and your involvement?

A: I am the current President of the Cooley House Foundation and this piece of architecture is truly one of the most important buildings in Louisiana. It is the 1908 collaboration of the husband/wife architectural team of Walter B. Griffin and Marion Mahony, who were out of Frank L. Wrights Oak Park Studio. It is not a steamboat as per local folk lore, but Prairie Style, which is the only true American architectural style. I once had a guy ask me just how they got that boat out of the river and up here on dry land. Most importantly, we at the Cooley House Foundation serve the community by teaching the significance of architectural style and preservation. It is our contribution to the arts of Northeast Louisiana.

Q: What was the first piece of art you ever sold?  

A: Several years back I came up with the idea of taking photos of people at the Blend of the Bayou and doing little oil sketches of them to sell at the coming years event. Well, it went over like wildfire, much to my amazement. I continued to do this for several years or until I noticed people running from me when they saw me with my camera;  I figured that this was a good sign that I needed to find a new protocol.

Doug Breckenridge - Blend of the Bayou

Q: What are some things most people do not know you are passionate about? 

A: Most people who know me know exactly what I am passionate about – this is a difficult thing for me to hide. I have written poetry. I saw on Facebook the other day where this big brawny guy I know writes poetry, so I guess I can say this now. I actually gave it up for painting, much like I once gave up golf for helping my sons at T-Ball. Everyone has their priorities.

Q:  What is one piece of advice you would give to all the artists out there?  

A: I am not sure I would be qualified to address professional artist, but here goes – work like hell.  I read once in one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books about the “Rule of Ten Thousand Hours”, which in essence, means work so hard at something that it becomes second nature.


The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is unbelievably thankful for what Doug is doing to promote our area, and we admire his hard work and dedication to what he is so passionate about.

-Joanna Calhoun

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Meet the Artist: Courtney Wetzel

Continuing our newest blog series, Meet the Artist, we believe it would be such a pleasure for our community to personally get to know its hometown artists and what awesome achievements they are making to transform the 318! This week, we had the pleasure to interview the talented local artist, Courtney Wetzel.

Courtney Wetzel

Photo by Kelly Moore-Clark

Q: Tell me about your background; what was your childhood like, when did your interest in art begin, what’s your family like?
A: Growing up my family moved around a lot. When I got into high school, I had a hard time finding friends- that is until I was introduced to the Meridian, MS Little Theatre. It was there that I was introduced to art through a local artist named Greg Cartmell. I began working at his art gallery/frame shop. He was an incredible teacher; however, it wasn’t until college that I actually tried my hand at it. I graduated with a B.S. in Graphic Communications and a M.A. in Art.

My husband, Zeke, completed his military obligation in the U.S. Navy five years ago then took a job here at St. Francis. We made our family transition to Monroe, and couldn’t be happier to call ourselves locals. I have two busy, creative kiddos, Genevieve and Vaughn, who are both newly involved with Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts, another incredible arts organization. There is never a dull moment in the Wetzel house.

Q: I know you have a specialty in printmaking; can you tell me a little more about the method and why you love this process over other media?
A: In college I experimented with all kinds of media only to find I was at best mediocre.  During this exploration, I took a printmaking class. The deconstruction of subjects into shapes and curves and lines is something I found interesting. Working with the extremes of positive and negative space is easier to communicate with printmaking rather than with painting.

Carving and printmaking is a slow and steady process. I can zone out for hours.  I use traditional carving tools on a wood or linoleum block to create a “stamp” for prints.  After the image is carved, the block is inked. Paper is then pressed on top and the ink is massaged into the paper. I can make as many prints as needed from a single block. Once the series of prints are completed the block is painted and sealed thus ending the life of the “stamp.”

Q: How/ when did you become affiliated with the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, and what do you do serving as a board member for the Arts Council?
A: It didn’t take long to discover the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and the amazing efforts being made by the organization to promote and celebrate the arts in this community. Right away I knew I wanted to be involved, and I was given the opportunity in 2015. I like to think of myself as the Arts Council idea fairy and worker bee.

Q: You attended an entrepreneurial training program organized by the Arts Council in February; can you share some concepts you learned there and how your business has changed because of the program?
A: This was an Art Business Boot Camp presented by the Ella Project brought to NELA by the Arts Council to help visual artists navigate through business management and marketing. As an artist, I have zero experience with business, and I am not alone. The boot camp covered many areas of art including copyrights, tax matters, and marketing/promotion. Wow! Who knew social media could give an artist such exposure! I think many artists have concerns about putting their work on this public forum. For me, the training program highlighted the importance of understanding the business aspect of being an artist.

Q: When looking at your website, I read you went through a 13-year art hiatus. Do you mind sharing what you were doing during that time and what compelled you to reenter the world of art?
A: I often joke that it occurred to me in my mid-20s that I needed health insurance which was not included in the benefits package for independent artist. Though that does have some truth, simply put, life happened. I relocated, got married, relocated, went back to school and got a master’s in Teaching: Special Education; relocated, had children, relocated, relocated, relocated, went back to school this time to be an Educational Diagnostician, and relocated. My life wasn’t settled for many years. About two years ago, I finally felt like I was firmly planted. The desire and need to create came back. I started producing work again to have something that was mine.

Q: Where do you go or what do you do to get inspired?
A: The inspiration comes from daily life, the people around, and the places I go. I’m simple. Recently, silence and the journey to finding peace has provided some inspiration.

Q: Other than art, what are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?
A: I have discovered a spiritual teacher/author named Anthony de Mello.  His studies and philosophies of spirituality are fascinating. Also, I really like dogs, sponge textured deserts particularly with fruit, Nina Simone, discount stores, and exploring new places.

Q: What was your first artwork you ever sold?
A: It was a nude print that was included in an all black and white group show at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans at White Linen Night in 2001. A man bought it for his wife who was a ballerina. I ate that week.

Q: What is the most touching or rewarding moment you have experienced in your art career?
A: It may sound silly, but anytime anyone positively acknowledges my work, I am thrilled! I would never be so bold as to think that others should like anything I make. I’m tickled when they do.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to all the artists out there?
A: Here’s more than one:

  1. Hone your craft. Become an expert at what you do.
  2. Ask questions to experienced artists. Ask lots of questions.
  3. LISTEN to the answers they give you and apply them where you can.
  4. While you are working your way up, sometimes you have to paint chickens and magnolias. What I mean is sometimes you have to paint what pays the bills.
  5. If you put the brush down for a while, even 13 years, pick it up again. You’ll know how to use it.
  6. Go to an art business boot camp sooner rather than later.
Courtney Wetzel

Photo by Kelly Moore-Clark

The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is so thankful for having Courtney on our board and for all the hard work she contributes for artist relations and strategic planning. We are inspired by her enthusiasm for what she is so passionate about, and we cannot wait to see what great achievements she will be making in the near future.

-Joanna Calhoun

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