Zack's 4x5 film camera poises patiently at poet Darrell Bourque's bamboo backyard

This project was helped by a grant from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation Community Partnership Grant

It's all about connections...

My Louisiana Muse is one of those projects that continues to evolve. This project started as a way to give a fine art bromoil portrait yet another layer of meaning, or storyline. I wanted to use the bromoil photograph as my end medium to do large format film portraits of Louisiana artists whose message I thought meaningful and needing to be heard. I wanted to know what their inspiration was and where it came from. I wanted to know these things so that I could be guided as my brushes and brayers laid ink over my portrait of them for the finished bromoil. But as I thought more about the project and how powerful Louisiana is to those that are listening, I felt a calling to tell the story of "where" rather than the why and the what.

Where does your inspiration take place? Can we go there?

These are the questions I asked each artist, and to these places we went. Each artist was photographed in the land that spoke to them and helped fuel their artistic process. I learned so much about each artist and especially more about our wonderful state than I ever knew before. I also learned that although so many of us are separated by many miles and lifetimes, our art and creative spirit keep us connected on levels deeper than we will ever know. This is the story I will try to tell. This website allows the public to learn more about my process behind My Louisiana Muse and to learn more about each artist. 

But what IS My Louisiana Muse?

Our surroundings have a powerful effect on our day-to-day lives and this ongoing relationship has been documented by artists to help explain our connections. Poets, painters, and photographers have long used Louisiana’s coast and her plains as their muse, drawing inspiration from her flowing waters and her changing coastline.
With "My Louisiana Muse"  I have produced fine art Bromoil portraits of these very artists surrounded by their inspirations and dreams. I have looked to bring together the lineage of Muse, Inspiration, and Art. 
I have travelled over 1,000 miles around the state of Louisiana in the past year, photographing notable artists in their inspired environments. Photographers Frank Relle, Michel Varisco, Jenny Ellerbe, along with artists and musicians Goldman Thibodeaux, Nick Slie, and Bryan Lafaye are featured. Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque is also featured and will be writing a new piece to commemorate My Louisiana Muse and tell its' stories.

Forward to My Louisiana Muse exhibit by Darrell Bourque


La terre nourrit tout, / Les sages et les fous.

 My Louisiana Muse is a reach back into history and pre-history and a leap forward into history future. Somewhere in the deep structures of an artist’s imagination is a connection with the origins of creativity and the origins of creation itself. The lines above are from an antique drinking song which has become a popular French children’s song and is the epigraph of a 21st century book of poems.  From bars and public spaces, to teaching spaces, to all the varieties of contemporary art forms, that’s where Zack Smith’s exhibition, My Louisiana Muse, finds its meaning and its power.

                  Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, is memory. The story goes that Zeus the Olympian asked this half human/half deity of the Titans to help him so that others might remember his greatness and his magnificence. She slept with him for nine consecutive nights and in the unions emerged their daughters, the muses and the remembrance vessels of all the arts: Calliope/epic poetry, Clio/history, Euterpe/lyric poetry, Thalia/comedy and pastoral art, Melpomene/tragedy, Terpsichore/dance, Erato/love songs, Polyhymnia/sacred song, and Urania/astronomy. All the vessels are feminine; forms of human articulation and remembrance coming through them so that we come to know that the earth remembers, as do the rivers, the trees, the warriors, the heroes and heroines. What humans and gods know and value come to us through those who remember deed, exploit, and union of every kind. In My Louisiana Muse Smith recognizes and honors these vessels as essential parts of experience in every aspect of being.

Representatives and articulators of the arts are part of the remembering and the nourishing earth. Louisiana is an earth mound not unrelated to the mythic earth mounds of the creation stories. Out of the waters of chaos emerge this sacred earth mound over and over again. It is the story of the crawfish and the crawfish chimney of the creation story of the Chitamacha tribe, it is the earth mound of Egyptian and other cultures with the pyramid representing their origins. Louisiana as earth mound has its highest elevation at Poverty Point and its lowest elevation in its vanishing coastline, the imperiled home of Native and numerous immigrant cultures.

In various cultures the creation of humans is directly connected to this emergent mass we call the earth. In the three major religions of the West, Muslim, Christianity and Judaism, the great creator takes from this mound a handful of dust and breathes into it to create man. From this earth-formed man he creates woman and the human race emerges, and history, and religion, and habit and habitation, and story and song too. One of the most beloved of the Buddhist mudras is the “earth witness mudra” which shows the Buddha at the moment of enlightenment touching the earth so that the earth itself is witness to his transformation, and an essential part of it was well.

In this first installation of work honoring these artists’ muse, their beloved Louisiana, we are reminded that the idea of the muse and the landscape itself are who and what we are and essential to our story. The Cajun-Creole singers creating these maps of region with waltzes, two-steps, breakdowns, stomps (from Bosco to Eunice to Lacassine, to Opelousas to Gueydan to Prairie Soileau) are mapping worlds they are never separate from. The dancers and playwrights, the lovers of rivers and bayous and streets and cities and prairies are parts of the places they come from. Mardi Gras Indians parading are parade and Mardi Gras and Indian and Big Chief and follower of Big Chief and a part of community and place when not parading as well. Imagination is wary of categories, divisions, facile separateness, and political and cultural divides. In My Louisiana Muse Zack Smith gives us 14 large format bromoil portraits, each one document and testimony and revelation that the human world and the natural world are all of a piece.


Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana poet laureate; author of Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie (UL Press, 2014) and “if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook (Yellow Flag Press, 2015)