The “Herb Garden” sculpture stands proudly along Louisiana Highway 1 near Bowie Road, both welcoming students and faculty to the Culinary Institute and catching the eye of any La 1 drivers. The sculpture itself depicts Louisiana spices and herbs that are unquestionably essential to any home-cooked meal. Depicted in the sculpture are the culinary staples dill, okra, chili, sassafras, and parsley.
Arizona artist, Dr. Stephen Fairfield was inspired to create the art installation after seeing the increased use of a small, humble herb garden near the school’s Ledet Culinary Building. Nicholls’ Culinary students often tend to the garden, selecting fresh herbs to use in their recipes. Needless to say, this natural and genuine fusion of education, culinary intuition, and nature was certainly enough for the Arizona-based artist to be inspired by.
For a better part of the last decade, Dr. Fairfield has been focusing on creating steel public art sculptures, similar to the piece installed for the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, as well as new media projects. When speaking to Nicholls’ press about how he hopes the piece would be perceived, Dr. Fairfield said, “I hope the public experiences a sense of awe, wonder and appreciative pleasure when seeing the beautiful colors, forms and lighting effects as color waves move over the various parts of the sculpture. This sculpture represents an homage to Louisiana cuisine and to those who care so much about it that they have created a process to perpetuate this culinary cultural expression.”
The “Herb Garden” sculpture was paid for by Louisiana’s “Percent for Art” program. Enacted in 1999, the program sets out to provide Louisiana citizens with an improved public environment by stipulating that whenever more than $2 million in state funds are used by a state agency for the construction or renovation of a state building, 1 percent of the state money should be expended for the acquisition, conservation, restoration, or installation of public art displays on the grounds of that building.
The “Percent for Art” program has been long-standing in Louisiana, as it serves as a dedicated reminder to preserve both the cultural heritage and artistic expression of the state and its people through the installation of public art projects.
The Culinary Director for the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Chef John Kozar said of the installation, “We are excited to show off this centerpiece for our Bistro Ruth patrons, and for anyone who makes their way down La. 1. This artistic representation fits in with our farm-to-table emphasis for our students. These herbs are frequently used in classical Louisiana cuisine, and their placement within this piece of art is incredible.”
It was always in the initial conception of the project for the piece to be attention-grabbing, seeing that the work was on such prominent display along Louisiana Highway 1 and positioned in the front of campus. Fairfield had collaborated on the project with his colleagues from his New Media Public Art Collective, an internationally-accomplished group of artists that specializes in the merging of art and technology to create memorable displays of public art. The collective’s goal was to create a piece that not only grabs the attention of their audience but abstractly reminds them of the integral components of Louisiana cuisine.
Whenever you next find yourself entering the campus of Nicholls State University via La 1, be sure to keep a keen eye out for the impressively-sized, and emotionally-resonant “Herb Garden” sculpture that now makes a proud companion to the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute’s landscape.
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