Robert Dafford, a Lafayette native and resident, is one of the most prolific muralists in America having painted over 400 works of public art across the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, and England. Dafford has painted twenty large scale canvasses depicting the Expulsion of the Acadians from Acadie (now Nova Scotia) in 1765 leading to their settlement in Louisiana, where they are now known as Cajuns. Reproductions of his award-winning art have been featured in textbooks, film and video productions, as well as the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Southern Living, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many more periodicals.
On this episode of Discover Lafayette with Jan Swift, Dafford shares how his travels abroad as a young man in the Navy led him to appreciate the unique culture offered here in Lafayette and what we now call “Acadiana,” and how it led him to visually create the story of the Acadians for a greater public understanding.
Robert Dafford’s murals have been enjoyed in downtown Lafayette and Baton Rouge, and have graced flood walls along the Ohio River. We in South Louisiana appreciate Dafford for his local murals, but in fact, he has been producing public art for decades throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Dafford is a 1969 graduate of Northside High School and studied art at USL, now UL-Lafayette, before joining the Navy during the Vietnam War. His travel while in the service opened his eyes to the similarities of the Cajun culture to the laid back lifestyle of the Mediterranean. His first commissioned mural in 1977 for Acadian Village in Lafayette depicts the Acadians’ deportation from their homeland. One of his most famous murals is the giant clarinet reaching skyward on the side of the Holiday Inn by the Superdome.
In collaboration with photographer Philip Gould, Dafford published “The Public Art of Robert Dafford,” which showcases his work throughout the years. The book focuses on murals painted along the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and puts his work into the context of the towns surrounding the murals. Lafayette author and photographer Philip Gould provided the book’s text and photos. To document the scope of Dafford’s work, Gould traveled to America’s heartland, interviewing those who have worked with the artist. “This is the part very few people know, and I wanted to see it firsthand,” Gould said. “People’s impression of Robert in Lafayette is different. He’s a bit of a folk hero up there (in Ohio and Kentucky).”
Discover Lafayette salutes our friend, Robert Dafford, for his fine work which has enriched so many lives. Please check out his book which may be purchased from UL Press, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.
Thanks to our writer friend, Chere Coen, for some of the content herein. You can also hear her story shared on Discover Lafayette here.