Earl Barthé is a fifth-generation architectural artisan whose great-great grandfather came to New Orleans from France, via Haiti. A self-identified "Creole of Color," Barthé executes decorative plaster and stucco work that reflects an array of French, Spanish, Anglo-American neo-classical, and African American aesthetics, reflective of the historic architecture of New Orleans. Barthé notes that 99% of the past generations of his family have worked in the building trades. Even his sister, who went on to be an international opera singer, worked at plastering in her younger days. In fact, he notes, "Plastering and music sort of rhyme." He adds, "You run the mold and then you place the dentils, those little square things that are cast and placed in the mold. It all has to be in tune."
The work of Earl Barthé was featured at the New Orleans Museum of Art in an exhibition titled Raised to the Trade: Creole Building Arts in New Orleans (2002-03). An art critic writing in the Times-Picayune pointed out in a review that the exhibition reclaimed the Renaissance-era connection between sculptural architectural ornamentation and skilled craftsmanship that had nearly been lost in the United States. In 2001, Earl Barthé and his family were featured as master artists at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Today, Barthé continues to teach young people these endangered skills and has initiated his own apprenticeship program in decorative plaster and stucco work.
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