Don’t you just love it when you start out your day with one intention and it happily takes an unexpected turn to a magical adventure leaving you blessed beyond measure?
This is exactly what happened to me and and my husband, David, when we took a little road trip to Baton Rouge on one of our last days in Louisiana. As many of you know, and others will find out, I like to take back roads that give me a chance to explore and find the unexpected. Friends in Hammond, Louisiana designed a route for the trip to Baton Rouge that we hoped would do just that.
Though the trip was pleasant, we didn’t find anything truly special on the way to town. Who knew that making the simple choice between a right or left turn at the Mississippi River could have such an impact on the rest of the day!
We chose right and before long we were in an industrial part of town. David thought we might find an abandoned business or building that would be interesting. Just then, something caught my eye and I told him “You need to turn around because I think I just saw a huge metal head”!
Not only was there a 7’ metal head, but beside it was a 13’ Indian warrior. There wasn’t any one around to ask about the sculptures, so we continued on our way. Ahead down an alleyway were several more metal art pieces. Just then, a man appeared and David asked, “Are you the wild man that created all this art?” The stranger’s face broke into a great big smile and he said, “Yes, I’m Joseph Jilbert.”
This was the beginning of a day full of surprises and great blessings…a magical day!
Joseph, or JoJo as his friends call him, took us into his studio and started telling us about his art, moving from piece to piece with such enthusiasm and excitement. The energy and true love he had for his medium – scrap metal, was quite overwhelming. His work is intricate and complex, not what I would associate with scrap metal. One piece in particular caught my eye – a 6’ piece that holds a special place in JoJo’s heart. There was a sad and moving story behind this piece. It memorialized his place and time in New Orleans during the horrific hurricane, Katrina. His story of that day and how the sculpture reflects the loss of homes and souls gave me chills.
He took us outside to see a motorcycle that was 14’ long, had three seats, about 15 mirrors on the handlebars and 10 or 12 tail pipes! It was totally made from scrap and had a “steam punk” vibe. The sculpture was commissioned by a Japanese motorcycle manufacturer for a tour.
They loved it so much that after the tour they gave it back to JoJo and commissioned him to build another that would be split in half so they could put an engine in it for the next tour. He is currently working on a 15’ man to put on the cycle.
As our tour of his studio continued, he told us some of the sculptures had been in movies, some had been commissioned, but I couldn’t get my mind off the Katrina piece. I knew his work commanded a high price, and I was afraid to ask what that piece might cost.
During the course of conversation, we mentioned that we were from North Carolina. JoJo’s grandmother was full blooded Cherokee and had lived in Cherokee, North Carolina. JoJo was half Cherokee Indian, which showed in his face. He seemed excited that we were from the state of his heritage. When I asked the price of the Katrina sculpture, his face once again broke into that big smile and he said “I’ll tell you what, since you are from the motherland, I’ll give you a discount”. Well as they say, he gave me a deal I couldn’t refuse.
While we were loading the sculpture into the truck, I asked him for a recommendation for a cajun food restaurant for lunch. And there it was again, that smile, and he said, “Come on, I’ll go with you!” At lunch, which was phenomenal, he told us his life story. He was an animated, fascinating story teller. There is no way I can adequately explain the energy and creativity that oozes from this man. He insisted on buying our lunch and gave me the autographed bill.
JoJo wondered if we had anything else planned for the day. Since we didn’t, he volunteered to be our tour guide and showed us around the city, visiting many of his pieces, some of which have been donated to the city of Baton Rouge. He is especially proud of some pieces that were in a park and his upcoming project involving putting a piece every two blocks in a neighborhood that is being revitalized and will be a major entryway into the city.
Another project that JoJo is involved with is called “Art & Seek”. He goes into schools and speaks to children about being a “green” artist. “Green” because all his art starts with pieces of scrap metal, rusted bolts, nails, nuts, or anything that is throw-away metal. During his visit, he asks students their favorite number and tells them to go find that many pieces of scrap metal, put them in a bag with their name and phone number, and drop them off at his studio. JoJo then makes a piece of art with the found scrap and donates it to the school to be auctioned off with the proceeds to fund arts for the school. The children get to find their pieces in the art – Art& Seek.
The tour continued with a stop at his house to see his piece “Seahorse”. It was incredible and one of his prized pieces. Next we went to Circa 1857, a business that specializes in art, antiques and architectural salvage. Several large pieces were on display outside the shop, and inside lots of artists were represented. A pottery heart that was half-glazed, half-unglazed, with the words, “and they lived happily ever after” inscribed on it caught my eye because it describes David and I perfectly. Turns out the owner of Circa 1857 was the artist and she has a studio in Capitol Arts Studio which is Jo Jo’s newest dream that is coming to furition.
Because JoJo had become like a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and the day had been so magical, I didn’t want to say goodbye. This is an artist that is humble – no big ego – but is sought after for his work. A Hollywood director, intrigued as we were about his life, is currently filming a documentary. I can’t wait to see the end product because then you will be able to experience Joseph Jilbert.
As we were leaving, Joseph asked if we had been to the capitol building. We explained that we couldn’t go now because we had that huge piece of art in the back of the truck. Just then, a car pulled up and JoJo introduced us to another friend. He was a past Deputy Secretary of State, knew the guards who would protect our sculpture, and would personally give us a tour of the capitol. We were persuaded, and I’m glad we went because it was a fascinating building with a history that made it well worth the trip. From the observation deck we saw all of Baton Rouge and the Mississippi River with all the casino boats.
What an amazing day, filled with new friends, great art, and not one, but two personal tour guides.
When I got home and reviewed my photos I decided to compose a collage of JoJo and his work as a gift. I only had one good photo of him, but it was one that would be a great base for the collage. The other pieces I chose to include were his favorite Warrior Gork (which stands in front of Circa 1857), another piece called Comet Catcher, and the piece that I had bought from him.
As with all the collages I create, there are hidden elements that become evident as you look through the piece. His lucky number is five, his passion for Art & Seek, and Circa 1857, where his art was first displayed, are all elements that were included. I chose to do a 30 x 40 canvas hoping that it will have a place in his Capitol Arts Studio. My only regret is that I could not deliver it in person. I contacted Sally from Circa 1857, and asked if I shipped it to her, could she deliver it and perhaps get a video of him receiving it.
Nothing makes me happier than doing unexpected things for people who have an impact on me.
I wanted to give something to this bigger-than-life artist who has given so much to his community. I feel blessed and thank the Creator for putting me in Joseph’s path.
David and I will never forget this day and I am so happy that Divine Providence made the way for me to have a piece of his art that I can look at and recall every sweet moment.
So, if you find yourself in a place where it seems like you are lost, or on a different road than you had intended, look around and don’t be in such a hurry to find your way out. You may be on the verge of meeting someone that will create your own magical experience.
To read more about JoJo click here