More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Rudy Hutchison (Carpenter/ Wild Fowl Carver)

We created the "soft feather." When I say the "soft feather," you're going to see carvings, you know, that's look like the real feather. We rip up the wood so thin that you could bend it like for basket weaving and what not. And we'd carve these feathers out. And we made about 10 or 12 huge pieces. Pieces ranging in the ten, twenty, fifteen-thousand dollar class. Like a lady Amherst and Peregrine falcons, owls and things like that. And we kinda got away from the decoys. But the artists would come in and if you wanted decoys we'd give 'em to you. And that's how we moved out away from the decoy. And we got to wild sculpture, see. And there wasn't too many people in Louisiana doing it at that time. . . . We're trying to keep this thing going for the youngsters. We're trying to promote more young carvers, you know. Now this is a book Charlie Frank wrote—he wrote three—Wetland Heritage: Louisiana Duck Decoy Carvers. Anything that you want to know about decoys and decoy carving, you can go to the library. He has these books in the library. And you'll find out anything you want to know about wildlife carving and whatnot. And, like I said, he beat the bushes. And all these old mens would've been forgotten if it wasn't for Charles W. Frank. And not only forgotten . . . you look at this duck here, you say, "I don't know who done that." But [because of Mr. Frank] you see it's a Kempel. It's a Hutchison. It's a LaFrance. It's a so-and-so. So, he put our ducks on the map.

We built the church—Epiphany Church. Everybody here [in the Seventh Ward]. Mitchell LaFrance was one that was big and powerful, so what he would do, helped with the foundations. He also mixed mortar, the bricks and all, you know. We had the bricklayers and all. We built that church, yes. The only thing we didn't do is the steel work. Once we poured the foundation and put the bolts down, the steel company come in and raise all the steel for us. And then we took it from there. But we built our own church. Corpus Christi too. On St. Bernard and whatnot. Helped build that. The tiles came from Brazil or Mexico, somewhere overseas. Those tiles, you'll go in there and you'll see those tiles. Very rare. They've been wanting to remodel it, what not, but the tiles is so old and they date back so, you know, really way back that you couldn't even replace them today. But they built Corpus Christi. We really took care of our own in here, you know.

A.P. Tureaud was one of the black lawyers that fought to keep this concrete jungle from coming through here—I-10, 610. And it wiped out all the people's homes. And he fought it to keep 'em. It was supposed to go around the French Market, the French Quarters on the outside where the railroad tracks is at, along the river front and right where the Rivergate was at. It was supposed to go through the Rivergate. The foundation is there. My good friend, Pichon, had the prints over here one time. They got a 12 foot slab there to keep the Mississippi River from pushing up and the highway was supposed to go through there. But they changed that and they come through our neighborhood. Claiborne was beautiful oaks. On Carnival day we didn't go no further than Orleans Street, Canal Street. We didn't fool around with Canal Street before integration and all. The Zulu would pass and we had our stands. We had our Carnival right there between St. Bernard and Canal Street on Claiborne. And they come through there and wiped out all them oak trees, you know, and just made that thing a mess now.

Rudy Hutchison was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.