LAFAYETTE, LA. - On the eighth day, God created eBay.
The verse can’t be found in the chapter of Genesis. But for the Rev. Paul Bienvenu, a priest who collects art from around the world and has an exhibit in downtown Lafayette, the verse is pure gospel.
“When God created eBay, that changed everything,” said Bienvenu, pastor of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Maurice. “Now I’m able to shop all over the world. Normally, if it’s Thursday, I’m probably shopping in France. It’s just that easy.
“The type of marketplace that it is, there’re legitimate dealers and people that have wonderful, original things out there. I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to do it. As a result, it’s really helped to grow my collection.”
Part of that growth is in the “French Connection: Selected Works from the Collection of Fr. Paul Bienvenu,” an exhibition that closes July 22 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
The display includes more than 20 pieces, with works from Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault, Michel-Marie Poulain, Jean Paul Brusset and others. The exhibit is a fraction of more than 400 works Bienvenu has collected for 30 years.
“French Connection” is also a reflection of Bienvenu’s love of art, which goes back to his childhood in St. Martinville. Bienvenu has fond memories of Louise Guidry, his kindergarten teacher who was also a professional artist.
Guidry’s son became a longtime friend. Bienvenu often visited the family home, where the oil paintings, collages and sculptures fascinated him.
By his junior high school years, Bienvenu had commissioned his first piece, a brass wire design that came to him in a dream. He took a job developing film at a newspaper, which only fueled his interest in print.
Those artistic fires burned more during his college years at LSU, where he bought student art. In the seminary, Bienvenu shopped for art at thrift stores and later became a regular visitor to galleries in Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
During one of his jaunts, Bienvenu encountered art dealer Cole Pratt. He describes the meeting as life-changing.
“On a priest’s salary, I knew I couldn’t collect much,” said Bienvenu, aka Father Paul. “He simply asked me one question: Have you ever considered works on paper? That changed everything for me.
“I began to look at works, rather than being oil on canvas, many of them were done on paper. Many of them were oil paintings on paper or water colors on paper or prints on paper.
“Even there, the printed works fascinated me, precisely because of my newspaper experience and seeing all of the printed presses around me.”
Bienvenu continues to wheel and deal on eBay. Some of his pieces have been gifts from other collectors and discarded works from national museums.
Bienvenu’s exhibit celebrates his 25 years in the priesthood. He hopes visitors appreciate the soul behind each work.
“Many of the pieces here were either created during World War I or World War II and the time in between. While none of these artists are showing us those scenes, most of them are not showing us the terrors, the fears and the horrors that they are actually experiencing very up close and personal.
“In that regard, each piece of art, whether it’s during those types of experiences or any experiences of any person’s life, those are sacred moments in the life of a person. Therefore, each piece of art is decidedly and without any doubt, sacred art.”
Want to go?
What: “French Connection: Selected Works from the Collection of F. Paul Bienvenu”
When: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Where: Acadiana Center for the Arts, 101 W. Vermilion St.
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