By BETSY SWENSON
Tammany West news
COVINGTON — We might be part of the Greater New Orleans area, but St. Tammany Parish has a culture all its own, one that is celebrated through the many artists who call the Northshore home.
For the past 10 years, the parish’s Commission on Cultural Affairs along with the parish president have worked to promote local art by recognizing outstanding local artists through the President’s Arts Awards. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the program, as Parish President Pat Brister and the Commission on Cultural Affairs recognized eight artists and one civic organization at the “Appetite for Art” gala held at the St. Tammany Parish Justice Center.
“It’s like getting a pat on the back in this exquisite Mayberry,” said Phil Anselmo, former lead singer of heavy metal band Pantera and Musical Artist of the Year.
A patron party hosted by local her John Besh kicked off the evening, with musical entertainment by pianist Ronnie Kole. Guests were later treated to performances from the Slidell Little Theatre, Javier Juarez Dance Company, and musician Christian Serpas. Laid out for sampling was a smorgasbord of delectable dishes prepared by local chefs, and displays of local artwork added to the creative atmosphere.
Honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award was painter Robert Seago, whose dramatic use of light and unique color palette often elicit an emotional response in those who view his work. His subjects vary from rural Louisiana landscapes to the revelry of Mardi Gras. Seago, a resident of Covington, is a founding member of the New Orleans Academy of Art.
Hon. Frederick Stephen Ellis received the President’s Award. As an attorney, retired judge, and World War II veteran, Ellis has worn many hats, but his work as a St. Tammany historian has earned him a spot among honored St. Tammany artists. One might say Ellis literally “wrote the book” on St. Tammany, publishing “St. Tammany Parish: L’Autre Côte du Lac” (the other side of the lake) in 1981. His book explores the parish in the early 1800s through around 1920.
“I stopped the book in 1920 because I started running into people that I know,” he said with a laugh.
Leah Chase, executive chef of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans, was honored with the Native Son Award. Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Chase learned the building blocks of her trademark culinary style in her early years growing up in Madisonville. She has fed Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, along with a number of celebrities.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be remembered by the people you came up with in the town you came up in,” she said. Near to her heart is her father’s advice to “do three things every day. Pray. Work hard. And do for others. No matter what, you have to help somebody else.
“I’m just 92, so I have about 10 more years, but I will work every day of those years to make a difference in this world given to me.”
Erick Loos was another chef in the spotlight Saturday, as he accepted the Culinary Artist of the Year award. The Chef de Cuisine of La Provence, Loos helped chef John Besh win the title of Iron Chef on Iron Chef America, and in 2011 he won the crown in the national Cochon 555 competition against James Beard award winning chefs. At La Provence, Loos focuses on creating provençal dishes with local ingredients, many of which are grown on La Provence’s own farm.
Visual Artist of the Year Martin Needom has been creating art in St. Tammany for over 40 years, creating both 3D and 2D works that fuse a variety of materials and reflect on the landscape of coastal Louisiana. Among some of his greatest influences, Needom credits his track coach and sculpture teacher, both at Southeastern Louisiana College (now Southeastern Louisiana University), along with former Slidell Mayor Sam Caruso, for encouraging his artistic path.
Citing the area’s “piney woods and river swamps,” Needom described St. Tammany Parish as “nutrient for the artist’s creative strength.”
Taking home the honor of Literary Artist of the Year was poet and educator Alison Pelegrin, who penned three poetry collections, most recently “Hurricane Party” and “Big Muddy River of Stars.” Her work has been published in a number of national publications. Pelegrin often writes about her natural surroundings and described poetry as “an act of praise.” She said, “The poet is a priest of the invisible.”
Musical Artist of the Year Phil Anselmo is the former lead singer of heavy metal band Pantera, nominated for multiple Grammy awards, and current lead vocals for Down, also a Grammy-nominated heavy metal band. His bands have sold 20 million albums worldwide, and Anselmo is recognized worldwide as a heavy metal superstar. He is also the owner of Housecore Records. While his music has led him all over the world, Anselmo said he is always eager to get back to his 17 acres in St. Tammany Parish, where he can relax and spend time with his many dogs, cats and chickens.
Recognized as the Patron of the Year, the Rotary Club of Slidell Northshore operates many large-scale service projects throughout the community, with 80 percent of their funds raised staying right here in St. Tammany. Slidell Northshore Rotary President B.J. Peterson said the organization is a supporter of the arts because, “If the arts are vibrant in the community, that attracts more people, more businesses, and it builds the economy.”