We spent the last week in New Orleans, there for my mother’s memorial service, family things, remembering, visiting, trying to absorb the facts that my mother is gone, the house I grew up in (essentially) sold, and the New Orleans family that was large and boisterous when I was growing up seems smaller, quieter and definitely scattered.
We did some wandering, too, to the old neighborhoods, the Lower Ninth Ward where my mother and her siblings grew up, the suburb I grew up in, the business district where my father had his business for so many years, and the French Quarter. We spent a few hours wandering through art galleries on Royal and Bienville streets.
Maison Royale, just across Royal Street from the Royal Orleans Hotel, was actually a combined jewelry store and art gallery. We wandered in, and quickly discovered that we could quite likely not afford even the cheapest item in the store. The clue for me was the first painting I saw, one by Maurice Utrillo from his “white period.” It was not a print or a copy. Next to it was a small painting by Toulouse-Lautrec. In the next room was a painting by Camille Pissarro. The Pissarro was listed for $2.7 million.
Not all of the galleries are in that bracket. We walked into the Vincent Mann Gallery on Royal Street and happened upon a story very close to my mother’s life.
The gallery has been operating since 1972 and specializes in French Neo- and Post-Impressionism. It’s owned by Jacob Vincent Manguno (the g is pronounced like a j), who for commercial reasons shortened his gallery’s name to Vincent Mann. He was born in 1925 in the Ninth Ward, lived on Caffin Avenue (where my mother’s church was), had boarded for a year at Holy Cross High School (a block from my mother’s house), lied about his age to join the military in World War II, and was a member of the Army Air Corps (now the U.S. Air Force).
We learned all of this because we were taken with one of his own paintings, entitled “Duet” (pictured above), and discovered that the elderly man sitting at a desk and working on a computer was none other than the artist and gallery owner.
He was a delight to talk with.
He didn’t know my mother or her immediate family, but he was familiar with the family names of some of my aunts’ husbands. He told us stories about some of his adventures, about walking the Ninth Ward, living on Caffin Avenue, how so many German families lived in the area (my mother’s family was French on her father’s side and German on her mother’s).
After several emotional days with my mother’s service and burial, this was like opening a door on the New Orleans of her youth.
Painting: Duet by Jacob Vincent Manguno, casein on canvas, 2013.