Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lyle Saxon, Weeks Hall, and Shadows on the Teche

Shadows on the Teche, 1938
Fantastic news!  The good people at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival have offered me a media pass to cover the festival this year and I could not be more excited!

The festival will be April 6 - 8 in New Iberia's historic district but their website promises events all throughout the parish. Their agenda is jam-packed with events I don't want to miss and one of the highlights for me will be the opening reception:  a Cajun Cochon de Lait (pig roast) with music by the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band, hors d’oeuvres and adult beverages at Shadows-on-the-Teche, a National Trust for Historic Preservation site.

Shadows-on-the-Teche was the home of the Weeks family and was built in 1831 and completed 1834 for David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad Weeks.  According to Richard Lewis, curator of visual arts at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans, the land was granted to Weeks's father, William,  in 1792 through a Spanish land grant.  William continued to purchase property throughout the area and eventually accumulated over 2,000 acres.

David Weeks and his father grew some cotton but focused primarily on sugar cane in the early 1820s. William retained carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark to build the Shadows but he died before the house was completed. When his widow remarried, she kept her property separate from that of her second husband. When she died the plantation passed to her son, William F. Weeks who died in 1895; then it passed to his daughters, one of whom was Lily Weeks Hall.  She died in 1918 and her son, William Weeks Hall returned to the plantation from Paris.  He acquired all family shares and at the age of 25 became the sole owner of the plantation.

Weeks Hall spent the rest of his life restoring the plantation to its original grandeur.  He used family papers and a complete set of construction records to achieve this, according to Richard Lewis in his book, Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects.  Architects Richard Koch (1889-1971) and Charles R. Armstrong (d. 1947) were retained to restore the home "to its 1830s appearance."  When Weeks Hall died in 1959 he bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr. did restoration work for the National Trust in 1961 and since then the gardens have also been restored.

Like Cammie Henry, Weeks Hall spent his life preserving and restoring a plantation home and buffering it against the encroaching modernism that he saw around him.  Both Cammie and Weeks Hall used their plantation homes to paint a picture of the past in which they both lived, while also keeping one foot in the present.  Complicit in this for both of them was their common friend, writer Lyle Saxon.

Lyle Saxon and Weeks Hall, a fine artist and painter, were lifelong friends and when Lyle Saxon had an appendectomy that turned out to be much more complicated than initially believed, Weeks Hall stepped up as a blood donor for Lyle.  Chance Harvey, in her biography of Saxon, says that after this they referred to each other as "cousins."  Lyle even joked, "If you think this is going to make me paint any better, you're crazy."

In The Friends of Joe Gilmore, Saxon devotes an entire chapter to Weeks Hall and chronicles a literal "moonlight and magnolias" visit to the plantation with his servant, Joe Gilmore:
"And so we sat there on the broad gallery sipping [mint]juleps while Joe and Mose brought in the bags...After dinner we strolled out to the summer house overlooking the bayou and some of Weeks' friends came to call.  The moon was nearly full and the bayou was filled with shining ripples.  Great trees arched over our heads where we sat in the shadow."
Lyle's friend and illustrator Edward Suydam was also present that night and Lyle calls the evening "nearly perfect" as ladies in white linen dresses and men in summer suits drifted across the lawn while servants mingled among them balancing trays of drinks.

I'm fully expecting to "see" Lyle Saxon and Weeks Hall when I visit The Shadows in April!

There is so much history and so many truly cool things to see in New Iberia and the surrounding area that I'm certain one weekend will in no way be enough.  Now that the book is finished I plan to make several trips south to more fully explore the stomping grounds of Lyle Saxon and Cammie Henry.

Cammie was born in Assumption parish (she sometimes says that she was born in Ascension parish) and taught school in Donaldsonville after her graduation from the Normal School in Natchitoches.  There are plenty of places around that area to explore as well.  Another trip!

Once again, The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival will be April 6-8; get your tickets here and make plans to go!

For Further Reading:
Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects (LSU Press, 2011)
Shadows on the Teche Plantation (Karen Kingsley, Knowla)
The Shadows on the Teche: History 
Lyle Saxon and the WPA Guide to New Orleans (Lawrence N. Powell, 2009)

If you like this post, please share it!  If you love this post, hit the tip jar in the right sidebar!

No comments: