Abbey turns chicken coop into chic artists’ studio

The blessing of St. Joseph Abbey’s renovated chicken coop by Benedictine Abbot Justin Brown Oct. 18, 2016, ushered in a new era for Abbey Art Works.

The repurposed chicken coop now serves as the home for the art studio, which has offered art classes to students, ages 18 and older, since 2008.

The artist-in-residence who teaches classes is Lyn Hill Taylor, the Louisiana Ambassador of the Portrait Society of America. She kicked off 2017 with a portraiture class, “Face to Face: Painting the Portrait,” a class that is taught four times a year. She also teaches basic drawing, five different ways to learn to draw and other classes.

Taylor accepts new students on a one-to-one basis for approximately eight to 10 sessions, teaching the process and techniques of painting, palette mixing and color theory as they work on a landscape, still life, portrait or abstract piece.

“That way I can integrate them more successfully in classes, since I know where they fit,” she said.

Taylor’s teaching technique combines a lifetime of art experiences, beginning at age 8 at the then-Delgado New Orleans Museum of Art and continuing at St. Joseph Academy, in fine arts studies under Zella Funck’s tutelage at Auburn University and at the Art Students League in New York. She opened her first northshore arts studio in 1970.

“I’ve developed a teaching pallet to help people get through the fear of painting,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s view and teaching of art turned upside down twice. The first time was while studying Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting, which demonstrated that everyone innately can draw and paint if the mind is open to learning and allowing the paint to flow.

“It changed everything I do,” she said. “Da Vinci said painting is a contemplative act. It is the highest of the arts. We need to pay more attention to the life of the soul through painting. That’s what we are trying to do here (at Abbey Art Works).”

The second time her art sensibilities changed came while she worked as a portraiture artist and painted writer Walker Percy’s portrait. (She has also painted Benedictine abbots Justin and Patrick Regan.)

“We spoke the same language, even though I was a painter and (Percy) was a writer,” Taylor said. “We realized the value of the word and image as symbols for something else, and the interrelatedness of words and symbols.”

She said Percy was adamant in his belief that the old symbols are worn out.

“Christian symbols don’t do the same things for us as they did for people in the Middle Ages or even 100 years ago, and he worried about that, knowing the power of images and words,” Taylor said. “It is particularly important right now. The Christian images today are in danger.”

Taylor said Christian images are being destroyed by ISIS in the Middle East, and Christian statues were decapitated recently in Berlin.

“What we are saying here is what’s the importance of images and what does it mean for the average person living in New Orleans today?” she said.

Christians today don’t have the instant recognition of Christian symbols as they did a generation or two ago, she said, mentioning how her grandmother knew what the Sacred Heart image was while her granddaughter has no clue.

The key to making this and other Christian symbols relevant is changing the way they are portrayed, she said.

“Percy said to look at the images and see why they weren’t working and go at them sideways and show them in a new light,” Taylor said.

“We’re trying to educate people in the basic technique of art while giving them an understanding of the image itself and the process of painting. … The importance is in the contemplative making of it, not in the product.”

Abbey influence

When Taylor and Abbot Justin discussed opening Abbey Art Works, this connection of images, the human psyche, a person’s belief system and how it all fit in daily life was considered.

Abbey Art Works takes advantage of the beautiful grounds of the Abbey, offering “plein air” or outside painting in Abbot Justin’s garden.

“We did that in the fall with 40 participants,” Taylor said, culminating in an informal exhibition where students put their art on easels and the Benedictine monks and children present rated their favorites. (This will be repeated in the spring.)

Abbot Justin also suggested opening the Abbey Church to Abbey art students to gain inspiration from the paintings of Benedictine Dom Gregory de Wit.

“(The purpose is) to move forward with the idea of the Christian image,” Taylor said. “What if we turn artists loose in there, asking questions like, ‘Are they speaking to you like they should?’”

Abbot Justin also has started an endowment for Abbey Art Works called the Guild of St. Luke. Charter members are being accepted, along with various membership levels including one for arts organizations. The guild will offer scholarships for people who can’t afford tuition and help maintain the studio.

Abbey Art Works is located at 75376 River Road in Covington. For details, call (985) 789-6889 or visit

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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