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Keachi, La. artist preserves legacy of "Porch Crew"
A Keachi, Louisiana, artist cares deeply about the legacy of a group of African American men who in the 1970s and '80s parked themselves on the porch of a shuttered country store and told stories about a bygone era. Travis Whitfield was so intrigued by the men that they became his studies. He painted their portraits, took hundreds of photos, and recorded their conversations beginning in 1973. Many of these images and artifacts are on display at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Whitfield’s “Further On Down The Road” exhibition.
“Here these guys were, these wonderful features and stories and all this stuff," Whitfield said. "It was like stepping so far back in time, which I always felt like I was born too late anyway. And this Greek revival store, I love that style of architecture.”
The ring leader of the so-called "Porch Crew" was Ward Barnes, who was killed in a 1990 home invasion. In one recording, he discussed piety with Whitfield.
"I see people go to church and then gamble and raise hell. And tomorrow's Sunday, go take the I know I'm a Christian, hold up their hands, white gloves on thing. I can't do that. 'Why can't you?' Whitfield asked. I don't like that kind of stuff."
Today, the country store is Whitfield’s workshop. Memories of the Porch Crew surround him. Whitfield, 68, paints landscapes and spends his days outdoors.
"There's no one left to pose for me, and I don’t want to get involved again like that because it left me pretty rough," Whitfield said.
Whitfield will present a one-hour documentary and gallery talk on the Porch Crew Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport. The exhibit ends March 15.