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Photograph by FREDDIE HERPIN

Contributing Writer

Have you ever entered the St. Landry Parish Courthouse from Court Street? If so, did you notice the beautiful artwork adorning that entry? That artwork is gorgeous and something we should know about and appreciate. The artwork was created by an internationally known woman artist over eighty years ago. Her name is Angela Gregory, and she is a notable 20th century American sculptor.

Angela Gregory was born on October 18, 1903, in New Orleans. Her father William Benjamin Gregory (1871-1945), an engineering professor at Tulane University and her mother Selina E. Bres (1870-1953), an art graduate of Newcomb College, both appreciated art and passed that appreciation on to their daughter. As a child her mother, taught her art lessons. Early in her life she also studied drawing, modeling and plaster casting from Professor William Woodward who taught summer school sessions in the Department of Architecture at Tulane University. Following her high school studies, Angela entered the Art School of Newcomb College in New Orleans, graduating in 1925.

While a student at Newcomb, in 1924, during her summer vacation, she was the guest pupil of Charles Keck (1875-1951) in his New York studio. Mr. Keck, who later became president of the National Sculpture Society, encouraged her in her desire to become a sculptor. In 1925 during her senior year, the New York School of Fine and Applied Art awarded Angela a scholarship to their Paris school. The award was based on her work covering a period of four years at the college. The Paris school awarded her a certificate for special study after a nine-month course in illustrative advertising, which included six months work in France, and three months in Italy.

Angela Gregory at her studio in New Orleans working on the artwork for the St. Landry Parish Courthouse in 1939. (Carola Lillie Hartley Collection.)

In April of 1926, she accepted an invitation to study in the studio of the great French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle . As a student at that studio, she learned sone cutting from the sculptor Otto Banninger. Later in an interview Ms. Gregory said of that experience, “He taught me at the height of his career, the secrets of his profession which he had evolved during the many years of his intensive work and his association with Rodin.”

In Paris in 1928, Gregory was commissioned by Madame la Comtesse du Taillis to execute a portrait-bust of her son. During that time, she also sold a small bronze goose to Tiffany and Company for their collection of bronzes in their New York Fifth Avenue Store. Later that year she returned to New Orleans where she was commissioned by architects Diboll and Owen to execute all the exterior sculpture and three floor medallions for the interior of the New Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse and Jail, a work that brought her national fame.

Even after those successes she continued her studies in France in 1930, taking private lessons in plaster casting from Monsieur Benedetti, a master craftsman. Returning to New Orleans in 1931, she was commissioned to execute eight stylized portraits in haut-relief for the Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

In the late part of the 1930s, when plans were drawn for the new St. Landry Parish Courthouse in Opelousas, the project architect decided to have sculptures done on the building’s façade. Since Angela Gregory was well known for her artwork at that time and had a relative living in Opelousas, he called on her to do the job.

Gregory accepted the job offer and began working on the sculptures at her studio on Pine Street in New Orleans. She themed the large one piece over the entrance “Louisiana receiving products of St. Landry Parish – sugar cane, cotton, corn, dairy products and the state flower, Magnolia.” The two other smaller sculptures on each side of the entrance represent an Acadian woman with her spinning wheel and stylized cotton, and a hunter in the rice fields. When Angela completed the sculptures, they were shipped to Opelousas and installed on the building just in time for the grand opening in March of 1940.

Another important work by Angela Gregory is the Bienville Monument, a bronze statue she sculptured honoring the founder of New Orleans, in the 1950s. She later was professor and sculptor in residence at St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans from 1962-1976.

Gregory was among the first women sculptors to gain international fame. Her artwork can be seen all over Louisiana, but also in other areas of the US and Europe. Exhibitions of her work have been hosted by such major venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Salon des Tuileries in Paris, France, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Angela Gregory died on February 13, 1990, in her native New Orleans. She is characterized as “a most important figure in the world of art.” And today some of her beautiful art can be seen right here in downtown Opelousas. What a treasure we have in our mist, a gem that most who live in Opelousas, or visit the town, do not realize. Next time you visit the courthouse, look at that art and appreciate how special it is not just to the town, but also to the state and beyond.

Book on the early life of Angela Gregory

To learn more about Angela Gregory, a book about the artist and the woman, published in 2017 is available. Written by Angela Gregory with author Nancy L. Penrose, A Dream and A Chisel (The University of South Carolina Press) details her life in Paris from 1925-1928. It is a memoir based on Penrose’s oral history interviews with Gregory, as well as letters and diaries compiled before Gregory’s death in 1990. Also look for a presentation about Angela Gregory on the Louisiana Public Broadcasting network in the near future.

At the Court Street entrance to the St. Landry Parish Courthouse. (Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN.)