Photos by Nicole Pensiero
Photos by Nicole Pensiero

Over the past decade, Cajun artist George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog has gone from being a word-of-mouth curiosity to an international pop icon.

His presence is especially felt in New Orleans, where his unflinching gaze can be found everywhere from a massive mural adorning the Sheraton New Orleans on Canal Street, to an array of elegant lithographs in the Ritz-Carlton’s M Bistro, just next to the popular Davenport Lounge.

The Blue Dog has appeared in ad campaigns for Absolut Vodka and Xerox, and a large, yellow version –– yes, he comes in other colors –– adorned a float in the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl victory parade a few years back.

But nowhere is Dog Blue, who is modeled after Rodrigue’s beloved terrier, Tiffany, more represented than at the Rodrigue Studio in the French Quarter.

tct-blue dog 1For a Blue Dog aficionado like me, a recent visit to the Rodrigue Studio was like winning a big haul at a casino or having your favorite rock star sit down at the table next to you at lunch: I was ecstatic, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself. (I also was relieved to learn that, despite Rodrigue’s death on Dec. 14 at age 69 from cancer, the studio will continue to operate.)

The studio turned out to be a welcoming place, where the staff encouraged me to take photos of the dozens of original paintings and reproductions –– some valued upwards of $250,000 each -–– and generously shared their time to answer questions.

The nearly 25-year-old gallery’s current location adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral is in a building originally constructed in the 1830s that once housed the legendary Bottom of the Tea Cup, considered the place to go for psychic readings.

A stop on the nightly New Orleans Ghost tours, the new Rodrigue Studio building was also the setting for the only painting Rodrigue ever created of the French Quarter (“A Night Alone,” his 1980s rendering of a famous Louisiana ghost story said to have taken place at the same location).

Rodrigue, who took up painting in the third grade while bedridden with polio, worked for years as an unknown artist before his creation went global. He became a beloved figure in Louisiana, where his George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, raised $2.5 million to benefit post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans via sales of his relief prints.

Earlier this year, Rodrigue held his fourth annual statewide art contest for high school students, which has attracted 1,500 applicants since 2010 and granted over $150,000 in scholarships, art supplies and other forms of help to aspiring artists.

To think, his success and philanthropy are due to that Blue Dog with the unflinching gaze.