‘Alternative Imprints’ for the ‘Bohemian fugitives’ of the French Quarter in the 1960s

Around here, everyone has something on the side.

The drug counselor is a photographer, and the taxi driver is a bluesman. The newspaper editor is an actor, and the actor owns a bar. The history teacher, the webmistress and the grant-writer all created Carnival krewes, The nurse is a burlesque dancer.

It Catches My Heart in Its Hands: New and Selected Poems 1955–1963; by Charles Bukowski; New Orleans: Loujon Press, 1963; proof copy; The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Edwin J. Blair, 2011.0326. Photograph courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

It Catches My Heart in Its Hands: New and Selected Poems 1955–1963; by Charles Bukowski; New Orleans: Loujon Press, 1963; proof copy; The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Edwin J. Blair, 2011.0326. Photograph courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Such is the participatory nature of life in New Orleans, where creativity does not require financial viability to gain a foothold.

A particularly rich time in the city’s creative life is evoked in “Alternative Imprints,” an exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection Williams Research Center celebrating the work of the Loujon Press.

The Loujon Press was the work of Jon and Gypsy Lou Webb. In the 1960s, thousands would have recognized Gypsy Lou Webb as a painter hawking her work at Pirate’s Alley. She also was known as the woman collecting admission fees at the entrance to Preservation Hall, according to Edwin J. Blair, who befriended the Webbs in the 1960s and came to assemble a rich collection of Loujon Press memorabilia.

“She knew all the musicians,” Blair said, and had an enduring ambition to write songs that millions would hear. When Jon Webb died in June 1971, the couple was living in Nashville, where Gypsy Lou had hoped to move up in music publishing. In the end, however, her only composition to be recorded was “Long Distance Blues,” performed by Punch Miller.

The publishing that the Webbs are remembered for, however, is the literary production of the Loujon Press.

Loujon’s first product was a literary magazine, The Outsider, with the title reflecting the Webb’s self-anointed status as “Bohemian fugitives.”

The Outsider was produced with a hand-operated printing press at the Webbs’ apartment at 1109 Royal St.; the HNOC exhibit includes a photograph of them at work there in 1965. Although only four issues of The Outsider were published, the magazine was critically respected and featured written works by Gregory Corso and William Burroughs.

Tenants Anyone? [Gypsy Lou Webb and Noel Rockmore]; photograph by Johnny Donnels; ca. 1980; The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Joan T. Donnels, 2010.0068.1.2. Photograph courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Tenants Anyone? [Gypsy Lou Webb and Noel Rockmore]; photograph by Johnny Donnels; ca. 1980; The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Joan T. Donnels, 2010.0068.1.2. Photograph courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The art of bookmaking is expressed in several limited editions of works by Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller that Loujon published between 1963 and 1966. Each of the books was a unique labor of love, typeset by Gypsy Lou, printed by Jon, and assembled by both.

Henry Miller’s “Insomnia, or the Devil at Large” is encased in a handmade wooden box, in which the book itself is nestled under a dozen of the author’s watercolors. Loujon books are known for their use of deckle-edged papers in many colors.

Loujon’s second Bukowski book “Crucifix in a Deathhand,” featured illustrations by New Orleans-based artist Noel Rockmore. A focal point of the HNOC exhibit is Rockmore’s “Homage to the French Quarter,” which features a crowd of 65 faces, including those of the Webbs.

“Homage to the French Quarter” is owned by JoAnne Clevenger, owner of the Upperline Restaurant. Clevenger recently regaled visitors to the HNOC by identifying dozens of those in the painting. “… Ziggy, we were never sure what he did, but we think he was a bookie. … This man used to ride a bicycle around the Quarter all the time singing opera. …”

Bar Fight; oil on canvas by Noel Rockmore; 1974; courtesy of the Myles and Anne Robichaux Collection, LI-000163.1. Photograph courtesy of the Myles and Anne Robichaux Collection.

Bar Fight; oil on canvas by Noel Rockmore; 1974; courtesy of the Myles and Anne Robichaux Collection, LI-000163.1. Photograph courtesy of the Myles and Anne Robichaux Collection.

Clevenger and Blair are among those who will speak Saturday, Sept. 7, during a presentation on “Alternative Imprints” at the Williams Research Center of The Historic New Orleans Collection. Also speaking will be Neeli Cherkovski, a poet and Charles Bukowski scholar who will mark the 50th annivrsary of “It Catches My Heart in Its Hands” with a reading.

The presentation Saturday will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 410 Chartres St. Reservations are encouraged, as seating is limited.

“Alternative Imprints” will remain on display at the Williams Research Center through Saturday, Nov. 16. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and admission is free.

To learn  more:

Streaming video of “Til the Butcher Cuts Him Down,” a 1971 documentary on Punch Miller by Philip Spalding.

NOLA Defender report on “Alternative Imprints.”

Doug MacCash report on “Alternative Imprints” on NOLA.com.

Mark Lorando of NOLA.com interviews Gypsy Lou Webb in 2008.