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The Rhythmic Art of Ronald Trahan

Capturing music in sculpture

The Rhythmic Art of Ronald Trahan

Photo by Bennet Rhodes

Ronald Trahan, The Dip. Mixed metal.

There is a musical quality to Ronald Trahan, in everything about him from the way he walks to the way he talks. Most certainly, there is a rhythmic je ne sais quoi to Ronald Trahan’s sculptures. Trahan made a name for himself demonstrating and selling artwork for decades at numerous festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Audiences know him for his mixed metal sculptures of the musicians and dancers that he witnessed both in New Orleans and in the juke joints that once dotted East and West Baton Rouge Parishes. Surrounded by musical revelry, “a different feeling just came about you,” Trahan said in a recent interview. His work recognizes this authentic joy, capturing dancers and musicians in the groove, losing themselves in the rhythm and the beat.

The West Baton Rouge Museum recently acquired a number of Trahan’s iconic, musically-inspired mixed-metal sculptures to help interpret the rich blues culture of the region. Trahan found inspiration in childhood trips to New Orleans and in his brother, Gussie Trahan, a saxophone player.

The Dip is his remembrance of his parents dancing. Trahan recalls his dad dancing in the kitchen before going out to juke joints and fairs. Sometimes the elder Trahan dipped an imaginary partner while waiting for his wife to get ready. Other times his parents danced together—something that greatly impressed the young Trahan.

Raised across the river in East Baton Rouge, Trahan attended Capitol High and Southern University, where he met his mentor, Frank Hayden. Hayden told his student that he works better in bold. Trahan agreed, and to this day he enjoys working with large figures.

Fresh out of the service in 1969 and attracted by the freedom and wildlife of his father’s native West Baton Rouge, Ronald Trahan moved to Port Allen to open his art shop on Rosedale Road, not far from his grandmother’s shotgun house. Trahan enjoyed the West Baton Rouge music scene and recalls evenings spent at juke joints such as the White Eagle and the Curve Inn.

When asked, Trahan describes himself as “independently poor.” He explained, “The money made a difference, but it didn’t make a difference. But you had the chance to do what you want. I’m about doing good art and enjoying it. When I look back, I can say, ‘That’s good!’ And that makes me feel good.”

—Angelique Bergeron

The West Baton Rouge Museum is open under social distancing guidelines. For details, please visit westbatonrougemuseum.com.