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'Second Story' is new chapter in Katrina resilience

'Second Story' designed by Sally Keller as a fanciful reminder of Katrina

'Second Story' designed by Sally Heller as a fanciful reminder of Katrina

As floodwaters once again uproot the lives and households of Louisiana residents, the windblown metal sculptures designed by New Orleans artist Sally Heller seem altogether relevant. Among 21 artists, Heller received a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant in 2008 to construct an iconic reminder of the devastating storm. Her “ScrapHouse” - a modest house perched among the branches of a massive but broken tree - was permanently installed in the Warehouse District.

“It was a powerful visual for me - the literal was absurd,” she mused.

Thomas “Tommy” Colman, whose family owned multimillion-dollar storage and tank facilities, recently commissioned Heller to create a similar outdoor sculpture in their private park in St. Rose, La., which has served as the location for a day camp since the 1930s. The camp reopened in the summer of 2005 as the Jimmy Club Day Camp for Girls and, a short time later, became home to a collection of 36 outdoor sculptures scattered across the grassy estate. Coleman’s holdings include artwork by internationally prominent artists such as Robert Graham, Kenny Scharf, Gary Webb, Swoon and Mel Kendrick. Heller’s “Second Story” is the most recent addition among local artists Dawn Dedeaux and Willie Birch.

Heller took six months to construct “Second Story,” a metallic patchwork of copper and COR-TEN®, a weather-resistant steel alloy that develops a rusty finish. She began the process by making a papier-mache model and experimented with foil to perfect the shape.

The final structure was riveted and welded to a flathead steel armature. The idea for this work was initiated by the strange pairings of large scale structures Heller saw after Katrina: cars in trees, boats on houses and many other hybrids. The house, in this work, has landed in a tree through forces of nature, becoming a second story.

It is a reminder to residents and convention center visitors of the “craziness you saw after Katrina,” she explained.

Heller used a spray gun and shiny automotive paint to create the tree trunk and vivid colors of pop culture to transform something tragic into fanciful artwork.

“Second Story” also refers to Heller’s second hurricane artwork and the way in which New Orleans was given secondary treatment during the catastrophe.

I would add, that the oak tree is a symbol of the resilience holding us up through it all.

The park is open to the public only by special arrangement through Jennifer Odem [email protected]

Mary Rickard has been a regular contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate, as well as newspapers and wire services in other locales. Feel free to send her comments or critiques at [email protected]