NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– From a formless lump of clay, man was masterfully formed out of the mind of a divine creator. If we replace the word divine for diva, it posses the question of: what if the creator’s hands belonged to a woman? What beautiful sensibilities might she impart upon creation? March is woman’s history month here in the United States and there is a local woman who uses her talent to commemorate the rich history of New Orleans through artwork. Meet Sheleen Jones, the artist behind many of the public sculptures of our city.
“For me, i’m inspired by the details of things. Each one of these people were important to their community. Each one was important in creating a culture that is in New Orleans. It is an honor for me to tell their story in a tangible way,” says Jones.
The subject of her art often depicts African Americans and in a city that claims close to sixty percent African ancestry; that s a beautiful thing to have representation. Jones refers to the artist Kerry James Marshall, who exclusively uses black people in his art saying, “if you haven’t started there, you haven’t gone anywhere. Everyone started from there… from the deepness of black.”
In greek mythology, it was the great deeds in life of heroes that won them a place in immortality. In Our city, Jones often uses her art to pay homage to the heroes of our city. So far, she has completed seven public works. Her first statue was in 1997, of A.P. Tureaud, the attorney for the New Orleans chapter of the NAACP; its located at the corner of A.P. Tureaud and St. Bernard Ave in the 7th ward. She says, her most detailed was her statue of Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana, the Big Chief who changed the culture of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians; that statue stands in Armstrong Park. Most recently, she has completely a non-figurative piece at the New Orleans East Hospital; it reflects a tree stump with a fresh green sprout growing from out of the middle, with blue glass around the stump. Jones says it represents the resurrection of New Orleans out of the waters of Hurricane Katrina. Every Statue reflects life.
One statue in particular created quite a bit of controversy in recent years, when it was moved from city hall to University Medical Center on Canal street; the statue of Reverend Avery Alexander, the civil rights pioneer who was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1975 and is remembered by many to have stood his ground when he was drug by his feet out of City Hall. “When creating the statue of Reverend Avery Alexander, as a part of creating his piece and trying to be authentic; I was given a pair of shoes for inspiration. Unfortunately, we couldn’t show the bottom of his shoe. The bottom of the shoe had a hole. It had been worn out because Reverend Alexander used to walk the streets for change,” says Jones.
When asked which New Orleans figure she would like to honor with a statue, she says, civil rights heavyweight Jerome “Duck” Smith would be her top choice, especially if she could include children all around him.
Sheleen Jones nurtured her artistic ability at Xavier University, but her creative origins go back to making mud pies under the sun as a kid in the 9th ward. As time passed, a zeal for mud turned into a craft for clay.
Her art is about more than making a two dimensional photo into a three dimensional representation. She encourages people to look deeply at all art and let the medium inspire lives, saying that if enough work is done, perhaps anyone could be eligable to have the fruits of their labor and life reflected in bronze.