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Louisiana Art & Science Museum opens The Faith & The Fury: Noel Rockmore and His Patron

Louisiana Art & Science Museum presents The Faith & The Fury: Noel Rockmore and His Patron an exhibition on view July 20–October 6, 2013.

Noel Rockmore Figaro Café, 1962, acrylic on canvas. Collection of Shirley Marvin.
Noel Rockmore Figaro Café, 1962, acrylic on canvas. Collection of Shirley Marvin.

The age-old story of an eccentric artist and his loyal patron is told in this exhibition featuring the paintings of Noel Rockmore (1928–1995), a prolific New Orleans artist. Throughout his turbulent struggle to achieve lasting fame, he was rewarded with the loyal patronage of Shirley Marvin, a longtime Baton Rouge resident. For more than 35 years, she provided Rockmore with unwavering encouragement while quietly acquiring a representative collection of his work to prove his talent. After Hurricane Katrina, more than 1,400 works by Rockmore were discovered by her children. Organized by LASM, the exhibition includes Rockmore’s paintings and sketchbooks as well as photographs and letters between the artist and Shirley Marvin.

Born in New York City in 1928, Noel Rockmore was labeled a child prodigy due to his uncanny talent in both art and music, and by his twenties was considered a rising star in the New York art world. He experimented with many different artistic theories and techniques throughout his career yet remained a realist painter. The rise of the abstract expressionist movement in New York over the next decade prompted Rockmore to move to New Orleans, seeking to develop his own unique figurative style in “creative obscurity.” Quickly taken with the lively art scene and architecture of the French Quarter, he embraced whole heartedly the bohemian culture and seedy charm he found there. Rockmore spent the next 20 years commuting between the two cities while various dealers tried unsuccessfully to manage him and his often volatile career.

Throughout Rockmore’s furious struggle, he enjoyed the steady support of Shirley Marvin, now in her 90s. A political activist and mother of three, she lived in Baton Rouge with her now deceased husband, real estate developer Wilbur Marvin. She met Rockmore through Larry Borenstein’s art gallery in the French Quarter, and a longstanding artist and patron relationship ensued. Shirley stood by Rockmore throughout his series of unsuccessful relationships both with gallery dealers and women. Believing him to be an unrecognized genius, she devoted herself to ensuring his art world reputation. In the 1990s, she produced the film Rockmore and secured a retrospective exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The extent of her dedication did not fully come to light until after Hurricane Katrina. In 2006 her son Rich Marvin and his wife Tee discovered over 1,400 works of art and 35 years worth of letters and documentation in a New Orleans storage facility.