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This is one detail from a Robert Dafford mural in Portsmouth, Ohio. Dafford corrective 60 works forth added than 2,000 anxiety of floodwall in Portsmouth alpha in the aboriginal 1990s. (Photo: Courtesy of Philip Gould )

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If you apperceive Lafayette, you apperceive the murals of Robert Dafford:

• “Ex-Garage,” on which best autos ability their way up the ancillary of Jefferson Towers, already a parking garage.

• “Till There’s Annihilation Left but a Postcard,” above Garfield from Dwyer’s, in which birds and bugs acquaint a sad adventure about the accompaniment of the Atchafalaya Basin.

• “Expulsion of the Acadians” at Acadian Village, assuming British soldiers rounding up and afire out Acadian settlers in Canada.

• “Three-D Prairie” at the Lafayette Children’s Museum. Viewed aloof so, the Louisiana mural beneath moon and stars appears to pop out in three dimensions.

What Lafayette bodies may not apperceive is that Dafford’s assignment is accepted far above Lafayette, forth the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and abounding credibility in between. As they did in Lafayette, Dafford’s murals accept aggressive crumbling downtowns and adequate the band amid cities and their histories.

“We were able to actualize attractions that had an affecting as able-bodied as a actual resonance,” Dafford said. “And additionally what their association looked like aback there was a active activity in these downtowns. And they see that it can be like that again.”

Lafayette documentary columnist Philip Gould followed the aisle arctic for added than a year and calm his own photos in a new book, “The Public Art of Robert Dafford.” It was appear by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press and fabricated its admission at a book-signing aftermost anniversary at Anne’s Table downtown.

“Overall, I was afflicted with the actual murals,” Gould said. “It’s astounding how, aback you see them up close, you can see not alone the admeasurement and the grandeur, but the faculty of place.”

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Dafford said he started cartoon at age 5 and got a acceptable art apprenticeship at Northside High, from which he accelerating in 1969. He went to what was again USL with an engineering scholarship for a year afore switching to art. Again Dafford was drafted.

He formed as an illustrator and artisan aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. The assignment was small-scale and confining, but Dafford was able to see some of Western culture’s best acclaimed museums, libraries and actual sites.

The acquaintance focused Dafford’s eyes for his own future: “I not alone accomplished that I admired to acrylic bigger things, but that I bare to alive a activity of artistic endeavor. I could never be a nine-to-fiver.”

He came home at age 26, acquisitive to assignment in a surrealist approach and analyze spatial relationships. At that time, in the 1970s, as Gould addendum in his book, a accumulation of adolescent men in Acadiana were arch a movement adherent to attention and adulatory Acadian culture.

James Domengeaux had already founded CODOFIL on the political front. Now Zachary Richard and Michael Doucet explored and pushed the boundaries of the bounded music. Barry Ancelet helped about-face the ability and ballad of Acadiana into an bookish study. Carl Brasseaux would do the aforementioned for bounded history.

People including Phil Lank were aggravating to put activity aback into Lafayette’s downtown. But as the 1970s anesthetized into the 1980s, Louisiana’s abridgement hit bottom, and Lafayette’s burghal became an emptier and drearier place.

“We believed we were activity to save the boondocks and animate the ability at the aforementioned time,” Dafford said.

The job of cogent the Acadian and Creole adventure visually fell to Dafford, as abundant as to anyone. Commissioned to actualize a mural for Acadian Village based on the Acadian exile, he begin little actual on which he could abject an authentic depiction.

“There was no beheld almanac for clothing, utensils, weapons, nothing,” Dafford said. “So I did a little bit of alongside analysis for what bodies looked like in 1755.”

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Brasseaux, now a assistant emeritus of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, helped Dafford ample in the actual blanks. Dafford was on a aisle he’d never advised to walk. He was an actual artist.

Even the burghal murals that aren’t actually about actual capacity tug at cultural memories. The beef cars in “Ex-Garage” accept Cajun musicians reflected in their chrome. The “premier” allocation of “Premier, Dernier et Toujours,” writes Gould, “shows French and English generals arena chess with colonists, ships, properties, priests, soldiers, etc.”

Dafford hopes his art may advice Portsmouth, Ohio, embrace its history the way Acadiana has.

Portsmouth is a archetypal Rust Belt story. The Ohio River burghal has absent bisected its 1950 citizenry of 40,000 bodies with the flight of animate comminute and shoe branch jobs overseas. Portsmouth has Appalachian roots, too.

“City leaders, for 50 years, accept been acquainted of aggravating to change that image,” Dafford said. “They’re actually abashed of actuality alleged hillbillies. They haven’t begin a way to embrace their Appalachian roots…

“Those questions are answered to some admeasurement in my murals. They’re aloof accessible now to do what the Acadian ability did in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.”

Those murals were a 10-year project, launched in 1992, that angry into 60 alone works accoutrement 2,200 of floodwall forth the Ohio.

“I accumulate thinking,” Gould said, “that those floodwalls, all-important as they were, were like a Berlin Bank that keeps the bodies from their livelihood, the river.”

But in the murals, the river becomes a appearance in the city’s story. That adventure branches out from beach burghal scenes and riverboats to bounded heroes including cine and TV cowboy Roy Rogers and baseball innovator Branch Rickey, the art deco bus base from the 1930s, workers in the factories and mills that alone Portsmouth, burghal scenes, and more.

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“Almost every one has a affiliation with the bodies who alive there,” Dafford said. “It’s not aloof a aerial image.”

More Dafford murals animate cityscapes in Maysville and Covington, Kentucky; Port Gibson, Mississippi; Point Pleasant, West Virginia; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and more. The capacity accommodate mound-building Indians and Shawnees in Ohio, civilian rights heroes in Mississippi and the antebellum affection ability of Vicksburg.

Closer to home, Dafford has immortalized Rayne’s cachet as the Frog Capital of the World and created behemothic agreeable instruments: a clarinet on a Holiday Inn’s bank in New Orleans and a harmonica on the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel.

Now, Dafford said, he has affairs to acrylic an accordion mural at Abbeville’s Burghal Hall, some baby murals in burghal Lafayette and a mural in Metairie assuming a boy attractive at his own accessible approaching in a amphibian bubble.

Then it may be time to get aback to what he capital to do at the alpha of his career.

“I achievement to acknowledgment to the surrealist and archimage adumbration that I set out to acrylic 40 years ago,” Dafford said.

Reach Bill Decker at 337-289-6327, [email protected] or @BillDeckerTDA.

Read or Share this story: http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/history/2014/11/14/acadiana-people-new-book-explores-worlds-robert-dafford/19044699/

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