Ceci O’Keefe Neustrom never imagined herself as an artist. Growing up as the eldest daughter in a family of 13 children in Mississippi, Ceci was a nanny who took care of things…she cooked, sewed and cleaned. “Art has never been part of my life.”
She attended and graduated from USL, and married football star Michael Neustrom, who eventually served as sheriff of Lafayette Parish for 16 years. They make a good team and are the proud parents of six children.
Originally from Mississippi, Ceci studied to become an educator, then saw her career evolve into becoming a landman, or as she became known, a “landmam.”
For decades, she has researched the ownership of land and mineral rights of families in southern Louisiana and immersed herself in the interconnectedness of Acadian families in our region. Her work in the local courthouses led her to learn more about the families who had settled here after the expulsion in 1755 of the Acadians who became owners of large tracts of land in our region. She would sit at their kitchen tables or on their farms and get to know their stories as she found out who owned the mineral rights to the properties their families had settled generations before.
Then, at the age of 55, her husband Mike offered her art lessons with Pat Soper, an acclaimed local art teacher and painter. Ceci had no idea that she had artistic talent herself and had only doodled before taking lessons. She was mad at Mike for putting her in a position of failure. But, she didn’t fail, and she soared once she tapped into her dormant ability to paint. She ended up as resident artist at the famous Art Studio League in New York. Ceci found that she loved the experience of creating, of “joining in the experience of creating with our creator. It felt like a miracle to me that I could do this. I didn’t believe I could do this.
Chief Judge James McKay of the 4th Circuit convinced Ceci Neustrom to paint his portrait. This work led her to love the art of portraiture, to capture the essence of the human form. “I discovered figurative painting. That’s what spoke to my heart. Judge McKay played football at the USL with Ceci’s husband, Mike Neustrom, in the 1970s.
Ceci grew up as an artist and has since created breathtakingly beautiful oil portraits of local people, as well as current descendants of Acadian settlers who arrived in southern Louisiana in the mid-1900s. 1700. She named it the “Acadian Heritage Series”.
To date, his work highlights the Babineaux, Breaux, Broussard, Comeaux, Guidry, Hebert, LeBlanc and Prejean families.
While many of us are familiar with the events surrounding the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755, paintings depicting this era always seem to include large groups of people, not individuals affected by tragedy.
Ceci’s oil portraits draw you in and make things real. You can feel the strength and courage of the Acadians who survived and thrived. Difficult to explain the energy that surrounds these paintings that honor the Acadian lineage of our region.
This was greatly assisted by local experts in Acadian culture. Cheryl Perret helped Ceci begin to identify Acadian families who could participate in her series. Special thanks to Mary and Warren Perrin of the Acadian Museum for their historical knowledge. Suzanne Breaux was also a great help, who is a fiber specialist, knew the importance of using the brown cotton the Acadians relied on and lent Ceci the outfit of Belizaire the Cajun from Glen Pitre so that Jerry Prejean the door. Patsy Foster of the Acadian Village lent Ceci her outfit to be used in the portraits. And Ceci made some of the clothing used, in particular the Evangeline-style cape worn by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s granddaughter, Kathleen Boulet.
In closing, we would like to thank Ceci Neustrom for sharing her story and art for all to enjoy!
For more information on the work and artistry of Ceci Neustrom, please visit https://www.cecineustrom.com/works.
Discover Lafayette and Ceci Neustrom will present their Acadian heritage series at the Hilliard Art Museum on the evening of Wednesday, October 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. This is Festival Acadiens week and will be a free event open to the public who would like to experience their art in person. Please join us!