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This is a re-release of our interview originally conducted with Ceci Neustrom in May 2022. Since our first interview, Ceci celebrated her body of work by unveiling two new portraits representing the Bergeron and Trahan families at the Hilliard Art Museum on October 12, 2022. We thought it was fitting to once again share her beautiful story during this week of Festivals Acadiens de Creoles in Lafayette.
Ceci never pictured herself as an artist. Growing up as an older daughter in a family of 13 children in Mississippi, Ceci was a nurturer who took care of things…she cooked, sewed, and cleaned. “Art was never a part of my life.” We taped this episode at the offices of BBR Creative with owner, Cherie Hebert, who has supported Ceci’s art.
Ceci graduated from USL and married football star Michael Neustrom, who eventually served as Lafayette Parish Sheriff for 16 years. They have made a good team and are the proud parents of six children.
A native of Mississippi, Ceci studied to become an educator, and then found her career evolving into being a landman, or as she became known, a “landmam.”
For decades, she researched the ownership of land and mineral rights of families in South Louisiana and became immersed in the interconnectedness of the Acadian families in our region. Her work in the local courthouses inspired her to learn more about the families who had settled here after the 1755 expulsion of Acadians who had become owners of vast expanses of land in our region. She’d sit at their kitchen tables or on their farms and get to know their stories as she figured out who owned mineral rights to the properties their families had settled on generations before.
Then, at the age of 55, her husband Mike gave her the gift of art lessons with Pat Soper, an acclaimed local art teacher and painter. Ceci had no inkling that she herself had artistic talent and had only doodled before she took up classes. She was angry with Mike for putting her in a position to fail. But, she didn’t fail, soaring once she tapped into her dormant ability to paint. She ended up as a resident artist at the renowned Art Studio League in New York City. Ceci found that she loved the experience of creating, of “joining in the experience of creation with our maker. It felt to me like a miracle that I could do this. I didn’t believe that I could do this.”
Chief Judge James McKay of the 4th Circuit convinced Ceci Neustrom to paint his portrait. This work set her on the path to loving the art of portraiture, of capturing the essence of the human form. “I discovered figure painting. It’s what spoke to my heart.” Judge McKay played football at USL with Ceci’s husband, Mike Neustrom, in the 1970’s.
Ceci has grown as an artist and has since created breathtakingly beautiful oil portraits of locals, as well of present-day descendants of Acadian settlers who arrived in south Louisiana in the mid-1700s. She has named this the “Acadian Heritage Series.”
To date, her work showcases the Babineaux, Bergeron, Breaux, Broussard, Comeaux, Guidry, Hebert, LeBlanc, Prejean, and Trahan families.
While many of us are familiar with events surrounding the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755, paintings depicting that era always seem to include large groups of people, not individuals affected by the tragedy.
Ceci’s oil portraits draw you in and make things real. You can feel the strength and the grit, of the Acadians who survived and thrived. It’s hard to explain the energy that surrounds these paintings that honor our region’s Acadian lineage.
Ceci was helped greatly by local experts in the Acadian culture. Cheryl Perret helped Ceci get started in identifying Acadian families who might participate in her series. Special thanks go to Mary and Warren Perrin of the Acadian Museum for their historical knowledge. Suzanne Breaux also was of great help, who is a fiber specialist, knew the importance of utilizing the brown cotton relied upon by the Acadians, and loaned Ceci the outfit from Glen Pitre’s Belizaire the Cajun for Jerry Prejean to wear. Patsy Foster of the Acadian Village loaned Ceci her outfit to be used in the portrait paintings. And Ceci made some of the clothing used, in particular the Evangeline style cloak worn by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s granddaughter, Kathleen Boulet.
Candid photos of a few portrait subjects
In closing, we want to thank Ceci Neustrom for sharing her story and her art for all to enjoy!
“I really wish that everyone could experience the joy of art. I never dreamed that art would influence me and challenge me in the way it has. I wish I had experienced this younger in life. But, on the other hand, I think God’s timing was perfect for me. Had I started younger, I may have been inclined to use it as a career. If I was doing this to earn money, the joy I’ve received may have been diminished. My joy is in giving it away and sharing it. My driving force is sharing my joy. That’s a greater payment than a dollar bill can ever be.”
For more information on Ceci Neustrom’s work and artistic talent, please visit https://www.cecineustrom.com/works.