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Counter-Culture Bearers

HNOC Exhibit on Loujon Press Showcases 1960's New Orleans

The Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection deviates from its standard traditional exhibits to highlight the eccentric French Quarter counterculture of the 1960s. 


Alternative Imprints: Jon Webb, Gypsy Lou, and the Hand-Sewn World of the Loujon Press delves into the equally arduous and artful ventures of Jon and Gypsy Lou’s printing press business.  


Small, yet compact, the intimate exhibit unfolds in two parts.  The first features four volumes of their short-lived, but ultimately influential literary magazine, The Outsider, as well as the intricate interiors and exteriors of books published by Loujon Press.  The opposite wall displays a collection of art representative of the 1960’s French Quarter scene, including many works by artist Noel Rockmore, a frequent illustrator for Loujon Press. 


The centerpiece, a large Rockmore oil painting, ties together the literary world of Loujon with its cultural backdrop.  The painting depicts the various iconic characters of the Quarter from Sister Gertrude Morgan to Ruthie the Duck Girl to the owners of the then newly erected Preservation Hall.  


Black and white photographs of Jon and Gypsy at work reveal a process just as much an art form as the product itself.  Makeshift lofts were built in small French Quarter apartments to make more room for the pages stacked and spilling off tables and overflowing from tubs.  “You couldn’t sit anywhere,” said exhibit co-curator Nina Bozak.  Edwin Blair, a young benefactor of Loujon Press, and the primary donator for this exhibit, sits with the Webbs as they sift through mountains of paper. 


“Blair moved down here in 1963 as a young oil executive, and really loved good writing…. [He] was introduced to The Outsider and ended up becoming a big benefactor because they were broke,” said Bozak.  “He helped them along and they gave him so many things in return.” 


Although time, money and proximity terminated The Outsider after only four, drawn-out issues, the magazine gained a countrywide following, and helped launch the careers of such literary giants as Charles Bukowski.  After featuring him in every volume of The Outsider, the Webbs aptly named the rugged poet Outsider of the Year.     


“[The Outsider] was just something kind of special and no one had seen anything really like it at this time,” said Bozak.  “They were works of art in and of themselves, but Jon also had taken these young people” and brought them to the forefront.    


Bukowski’s relationship with the Webbs lasted beyond The Outsider and into the Webb’s book publishing endeavors, an undertaking even more painstaking than the magazine.  


“[The books] ended up taking a ton of time because they wanted to make them even more beautiful and use nicer paper,” said Bozak.  But again, income and health took its toll on production. 


Not your sloppy soft copy, books won design awards, and one Bukowski book even gained the recognition and praise of a writer for The New York Times


“They’re all really beautiful, and aesthetically really interesting, especially with the Bukowski books,” said Bozak.  “They’re so beautiful and his poetry was kind of base, so [you] have that juxtaposition, but it still really worked.”  


One Henry Miller book takes up so much room that the curators only decided to display its lid box. 


“The lid slides out and it is 12 plates of reproductions of Miller’s watercolors.  You open the box and then you take the plates out and it’s Styrofoam, and the book is laid in.  It’s spiral bound, but it’s covered with this crazy cover,” said Bozak. 


As one imagines peeling back layers of elaborate lids, metal plates, Styrofoam, and finally fragile pages from a facsimile of Miller’s handwritten journal to his lover, it is not Miller, but the Webbs that come to the surface.  Through each publication one sees the commitment, love and time that went into these veritable works of art. 


On view through November 16.  Free admission.


Image info: 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

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