Wife of late artist George Rodrigue shares legacy, hopes to inspire students’ creativity


Looking over the group of Talent Arted students gathered at Tioga Elementary School, Wendy Rodrigue told them that they all share something in common with her late husband, Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, who created one of the most iconic symbols in modern art, the Blue Dog. They all have an imagination.  

As part of the “Life & Legacy Foundation & Tour,” Rodrigue is visiting schools throughout the country, including those in Rapides Parish, to share the legacy of one of Louisiana’s most famous artists.  

Rodrigue loves to visit schools all over the country because she hopes that by sharing stories about George, it could inspire students on their creative journeys.  

“He would say the more personal you are, the better you become,” she said. 

George was born in New Iberia, she told the students, a town similar in size to Alexandria. He grew up as an only child and developed polio when he was in the third grade. During this time, he lost the use of his legs and was laid up in his room bored out of his mind. 

Then his mother visited a friend at a store on Main Street and told them about George’s boredom. 

“And the friend says, ‘Over there in the corner, we just got in those art supplies.’ And George’s mama says, ‘Art supplies? George doesn’t like art.’,” Rodrigue recounted. “George didn’t know art. Out of desperation, she took those precious, precious pennies and she bought paint and brushes and canvases and modeling clay. And she brought those things home to Baby George.” 

Lying there in bed, he painted his first picture, a clown. 

“That painting was the first painting George had ever seen in his life, by anybody. It was his own,” said Rodrigue.  

That clown painting is one that George kept up on the wall of his studio his whole life. That painting now hangs on the wall in the museum in New Iberia. 

He also made animals out of the modeling clay and made up stories about them.  

It was while he was sick that he discovered art, and it gave him joy.  

Art can be inspiring, Rodrigue told the kids. And George never lost that inspiration. His love of art stayed with him after he fully recovered. 

Displayed behind her were some of George’s paintings that she brought with her to show students his work and tell the stories behind some of the paintings. 

In the past when George visited schools, he would bring a large, blank canvas, big brushes and tubes of paint to paint for the students and paint really quickly for the students. 

“You would see a big, bright painting come to life right in front of you,” she told them. “It was so fun.” 

She pointed out a picture of the Blue Dog painted on a reflective surface that was similar to ones George painted for children’s hospitals.  

“You are all reflected in this,” she told the students. “We are all reflected in this, and we become part of the painting. We have been invited in by being reflected in it.” 

As for the paintings George did for the hospitals, Rodrigue said George never forgot the fear he felt as a child seeing some of the other children with polio who were in the hospital and put in “iron lungs.” That terrified him. 

“He described it as his single most vivid childhood memory,” said Rodrigue. “In the last weeks of his life, he was still having nightmares about it.” 

This memory inspired him to do something for hospitalized children. He wanted to create something that was powerful, joyous and wonderful to compete with what might be a scary memory for them, she said. 

He came up with the idea to silkscreen a Blue Dog onto eight-foot tall, mirrored surfaces and paint bright symbols around it like sunshine and flowers. The paintings are also sealed so children can touch them. And in the center of the dog, he created a big heart. 

“In that heart, he would put no paint. So, when the child walks up, or is wheeled up, or is carried to the painting, they see their face in the heart of the dog. And just maybe they feel a little better. And maybe they have memory that will compete with what might have been scary.” 

She also told them the story behind the real life inspiration for the Blue Dog which is based on legend of the loup-garou, or werewolf, and his dog Tiffany.

As famous as George was, she told students that he was no more special or important than any of them. And, neither was his art. 

But through his art, George Rodrigue changed world, she said.

“And so can you,” Rodrigue told the students. “The world can be your family. It can be your class, your school, your community. It can be the world. You can do it. You can do it to some degree everyday. And you’ll be glad you did. Trust me, it feels real good.” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *