The art world lost a legend this week when it lost Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue.
Destin artist Don Sawyer met Rodrigue 10 or 11 years ago when he walked into and then spent the afternoon in Sawyer's gallery.
"He looked at my art and gave suggestions, then he took one of my pieces and put his Blue Dog in it," remembers Sawyer.
Sawyer still has the painting and would not consider selling it. In turn, Sawyer painted a portrait of Rodrigue's new dog, Harry.
"He is legend in New Orleans," said Sawyer. "Icon didn't apply to him. I have known two masters: Woodie Long and George Rodrigue."
Sawyer and Rodrigue remained in touch and met again for lunch in Baytowne on one of Rodrigue's subsequent visits.
"He was very dedicated to the arts. Everything he did revolved around the arts. He loved kids. He was sweet, most sincere. He bought an entire block in the French Quarter and refurbished it. I hate losing him. He was great. There will never be another," said Sawyer.
Local restaurateur AJ Tusa agrees.
Tusa was friends with Rodrigue for 37 years. They met at Tusa's restaurant in New Orleans.
"When he laughed from so deep inside himself everyone in the room became happy," said Tusa. "He was extremely warm hearted. He gave a lot of charity donations and helped survivors of Katrina. He helped in the inner city of New Orleans through his foundation and gave his personal money, some to students and some to artists. When people met him, they wanted to hug him as they sensed his sincerity. When he shook your hand you knew someone cared. There was nothing superficial," said Tusa.
Rodrigue created a different type of art, said Tusa, and he wasn't accepted in the New Orleans art world at first.
"No one's feet touched the ground in his paintings,” he said. “There was something magical about it. But there was a certain amount of sadness in his early pieces."
Freeport artist Eileen West managed a gallery in the Vieux Carre district of New Orleans back in the 1980s which carried many paintings by Rodrigue before Tiffany, the Blue Dog, came to him in a dream and made him a star. The older paintings were masterful images of the bayous and the people who lived there, she remembers: giant dark live oaks with draping Spanish moss, quiet reflections on the still water, and the people playing Bourre or strolling.
"He was an accomplished painter who loved his parish and then became an international celebrity," said West. "Louisiana is right to honor him; he has honored his home place."
In 1982 Rodrigue painted a work that has Tusa standing under an oak tree with his son. The painting was bought by Lindy Boggs. Tusa said the painting now hangs in the National Archives and became the artwork for the front cover of a phone book for southwest Louisiana.
"I used to tell him he put me in every motel in southwest Louisiana," said Tusa.
Years later Rodrigue painted the Blue Dog.
"There was something in the dogs' eyes that was mystical," he said. "Galleries have all kinds of art in them, but George had the Blue Dog.”
The Blue Dog paintings, which catapulted Rodrigue to fame, was patterned after the artist's own little dog, Tiffany, who hung out with him in his gallery.
Rodrigue painted a work for Tusa featuring five Blue Dogs, all wearing chef hats.
"I look at it every day and miss him, but he will be missed by many," said Tusa. "He loved to make people happy."
And, Tusa will miss his presence at his annual Christmas dinner, which Rodrigue always attended.
"We were privileged to be part of a group he was in," said Tusa.