"Louisiana" was designated the official painting for the state of Louisiana by Act 981 on June 29, 1995. Containing representations of every current official symbol as well as many commonly accepted state icons and dominated by the state colors of gold, white and blue, the oil painting was a collaboration by artists Johnny O. Bell and Johnny F. Bell. The father-and-son artist team conceived the idea for an official state painting in 1972, began work in 1975 and completed it in 1985.
The original painting now hangs at the State Capitol and a copy is on display at the Governor's Mansion. The Archives is pleased to have a full-sized copy on permanent display, along with official doucments and information about the artists.
Johnny O. Bell was born with an abundance of natural artistic ability. Following in the footsteps of his father who applied his artistic talent to the trades of diesinker and toolmaker, Bell used his talents professionally and became a renowned commercial artist. Raised in Michigan, the Westfield, Massachusetts, native was commissioned to do works of art throughout the United Sates, especially along the East Coast, throughout the Western states and in the Southeastern quadrant of the United States.
Accomplished in layout and spatial design, Bell was highly sought by those in need of a professional letterer. During World Was II, his talents caught the attention of U.S. Army officials. He became the “artist in residence” in his company and was assigned all artistic responsibility including map drawing.
After his military discharge in 1943, Bell married Margaret Thompson and the couple settled in Kosciusko, Mississippi where he opened a sign company. In 1955, the Bells and their three children relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he founded Bell Advertising and Murals.
Although Bell experimented with many artistic techniques, he is best known for his mural art. Beginning in the 17th century, vividly colored oils on canvas, such as those used in “Louisiana” the official state painting, became characteristic of mural paintings. A palcolithic art form, mural painting experienced a surge in popularity in the 20th century due in part to a growing trend toward social realism. The works of many of the mural artists employed by the Work Projects Administration in the 1930’s and 1940’s still adorn courthouses and other public places throughout the United States. Bell applied his expertise in mural painting in the design and implementation of what he envisioned would best represent the diverse and unique nature of the state of Louisiana on canvas. The stylized figures and motifs used in the composition portray the history and culture of Louisiana and its people from earliest times to the present.
Because of his contribution to the state and in recognition of his exceptional artistic achievements, Johnny O. Bell was named Honorary State Artist Laureate by Governor Murphy J. “Mike” Foster two years after the completed work “Louisiana,” was declared the Official State Painting.
Johnny F. Bell is one of three children born to Johnny O. and Margaret Thompson Bell. Born in Wynona, Mississippi, in 1944 he began exhibiting a natural inclination toward the arts at an early age. By age six, Johnny F. Bell was a student of the arts, taking lessons from his father on a regular basis.
When the younger Bell was able, he began spending his spare time working in the lettering and mural business founded by his father. When Bell graduated from high school in 1963, he had by his own rights reached a high level of accomplishment in the arts. He entered Louisiana State College in Pineville as an art major and married Paulette Capitano Dawson in 1964.
Although Johnny F. Bell studied new techniques and styles and worked in various artistic media, he preferred to express himself through the art of mural painting and portraiture learned from his mentor and father. So expertly had he mastered the techniques shown to him that his work, on occasion, was mistaken for that of his father. The elder Bell himself admitted that he has come across one of this son’s works, mistook it for one of his own and wondered that he could not remember painting it.
The similarities in their styles and techniques extended to their dream of creating a single oil work on canvas to represent their beloved state of Louisiana. It took twenty-three years from the time they began collaborating on the work until “Louisiana” was named the Official State Painting, but they never gave up the dream. Johnny f. Bell and his father were able to work interchangeably on the canvas and, to signify that the two artists had successfully merged their talents, they put their names to the finished work on a single signature line: the son’s middle initial contained within that of his father’s.
“Louisiana” won the hearts, and the votes, of the state’s senators and representatives. After passing through both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Governor Edwin W. Edwards supported the choice for the first Official State Painting in America by signing Act 981 on June 29, 1995.
Johnny F. Bell continues to work closely with his father and support the family trade. He is highly regarded for his own artistic abilities and has been commissioned throughout the United States to complete works of art for both the private and public sectors.
For his contribution to the state of Louisiana and in recognition of his exceptional artistic achievements, Johnny F. Bell was named State Artist Laureate by Governor Murphy J. “Mike” Foster.
TITLE 49 State administration :: RS 49:170.5 State painting
§170.5. State painting
There shall be an official state painting. The official state painting shall be the 1985 oil painting by the artists Johnny O. Bell and Johnny F. Bell entitled "Louisiana". Its use on official documents of the state and with the insignia of the state is hereby authorized. The copyright privileges of the official state painting shall remain with the artists, John O. Bell and John F. Bell.
Acts 1995, No. 981, §1; Acts 1999, No. 973, §1.
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