Statuesque New Orleans

Mention the word “statues” in a crowded room in New Orleans and be prepared for a variety of reactions from a growl of disdain to a cheer of joy. Most New Orleanians probably would be delighted to never ever hear the word “statue” again.

Ashley Merlin is not one of those people. She is extraordinarily passionate about New Orleans statues. After Hurricane Katrina, Merlin, a photographer, began documenting New Orleans statues.

“Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to wake us from our comfortable, insulated world,” she said in the introduction to her book, “Statuesque New Orleans.” “Many tried to find a way to help rebuild our city on the Mighty Mississippi. A professional photographer for 10 years, I decided to focus attention on the city’s statues.”

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At about the same time, Merlin also took a workshop on how to publish a book and realized no one had ever done a coffee table book on our statuary. Four years later, in 2010, with a newfound and deep respect for all these marble, concrete and bronze creations, she published her book.

Merlin says she can’t pick a favorite — from Enrique Alférez’s art deco statues, to the Gumbel Memorial Fountain, “Meeting of Air and Water” by Isidore Konti at the entrance of Audubon Park, she loves them all. But one statue is close to her heart because of the relationship she developed with the sculptor, Franco Alessandrini. 

“Monument to the Immigrant” stands in Woldenberg Park. It features a family of immigrants and is made of white Carrara marble. Alessandrini graciously wrote a note about his work in her book.

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“So simple. So descriptive that everyone that looks at this family and looks into their eyes will feel their emotion, feel their joy, feel their fear, as they took their first steps into their new life in America.”

Since the successful publishing of her book, Merlin’s become an ad hoc expert on statues and is often asked to speak at organizations about her work. She’s also become an advocate of restoring these treasures. A portion of her book sales is used to refurbish and maintain the statues and monuments seen in her book.  One of the restorations she supported was the statue of Margaret Gaffney Haughery, which was sculpted by Alexander Doyle and graces the corner of Camp and Prytania.

“It’s the first statue in America to be dedicated to a woman,” she said. “Art is for everybody and refurbishing these statues should be what we are talking about now.”

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Another statue she said is in need of repair is “Fountain of the Four Winds” at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. This is yet another creation by Enrique Alférez, one of the city’s most notable sculptors. His work graces the city and can be seen all throughout City Park.

Merlin’s book also includes maps that groups statues by neighborhoods and will certainly be the next thing I do with the grandchildren now that the furor over Pokémon Go has gone.

Merlin’s photographic passion is helping natives and tourists know a bit more about the well-known statues, from Andrew Jackson, cast in bronze and created by Clark Mills, to the lesser known statues we pass everyday and only subconsciously acknowledge like the 12-foot statue of Simon Bolivar by Abel Valmitjana on Canal Street.

“New Orleans is unique in that we embrace and love art in every form,” she said. “I hope my book can jump start journeys of discovery.”



Ashley Merlin Photography



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