We’re familiar with all of their glaring contradictions: the exteriors grey, craggy and primal; the insides polished, pearly bowls. Salvaged like lost rocks from the dark brown depths of the Gulf, but celebrated atop crisp white or red-checkered tablecloths, oysters also provide minimalist canvases for Leah Marchand, a portrait painter who artfully upcycles Louisiana’s most famous shells into gilded, festive keepsakes, family-fun tree ornaments and fanciful Southern landscapes.
“I like to create in the moment and be fully involved, so oysters are unique enough and small enough that I can start and almost finish one in one sitting,” Marchand says. “I really needed that.”
The small scale is a creative outlet that suits her schedule, a crucial decision to move Marchand past the more frustrating parts of creating to the thrill of completion and sharing.
Working in a TV newsroom and running a part-time art business, the mother of two paints on larger scales, too, in tiny increments after the kids are tucked in, mostly a lot of alligator-skin textures and Mississippi River currents.
But what better way to connect Louisianans to their environment than to use discarded shells for art?
“And it keeps something out of the trash,” she adds.
Her yard a stockpile of shells bleaching in the sun, Marchand lays them out for a year before prepping and painting them. And when her shells are filled with images of a family pet or loved one, they become so married to the memory of that person or that pet, she feels honored to take part in the process.
Short on time, even checking her voluminous text thread from a group chat of creative friends is enough to keep her going or give her the brain break of an unabashed laugh.
“My advice is to find peers who support you, with encouragement and kind ears,” Marchand says.
Whether it is the importance of breaking news, the story of an interview subject, the trust of a close client, or her support group of artist friends, she finds inspiration everywhere she looks. And that’s a final contradiction. Something so personal is revealed best only when connecting with others.
“Art was always my first language, how I expressed joy or anger or anything,” Marchand says. “That connection with people is where my art comes from.”