When he first learned of this summer’s devastating floods across Louisiana, folk artist and history teacher Devin DeWulf ’07 was not moved to tears, but to paint.
For DeWulf and other residents of New Orleans, the devastation caused by the recent flooding was reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Twenty parishes in southern Louisiana have declared a state of emergency, and the rapidly rising water has damaged over 40,000 homes. Students in the region had just gone back to school when the water began to rise. Books, desks and basic classroom supplies, which many teachers buy for their students with hundreds of dollars of their own money, were destroyed.
“Everyone feels for it,” says DeWulf, who has called New Orleans home for the past nine years, but was still a student at the College of Charleston when Katrina hit his adopted city in 2005.
Unable to travel west to aid in the recent recovery efforts, DeWulf worked through his emotions in a shed in his backyard with vibrant oils on a wood panel. He mounted the completed piece on a fence in front of his house for passersby to see its message in shining gold: “Louisiana: People Stronger Than Water.”
He took a picture of the mounted painting and posted it on Facebook. A friend of his from the New Orleans artist collective Where Y’Art saw the image and reached out, offering to connect DeWulf with a printmaker if he wanted to sell the painting to raise money for flood victims.
Within three days, DeWulf had set up a fundraising campaign with the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (APEL). “It was very quick, very organic,” DeWulf says.
The collaboration with APEL seemed natural to DeWulf, who has taught in middle schools since graduating from the College in 2005 with a double major in history and Latin American and Caribbean studies.
So far, DeWulf and APEL have raised $2,500 through the sale of letterpress and fine art prints, as well as an original oil painting. Local stores have put the prints on display to show support and raise awareness for the campaign.
The campaign isn’t just about raising funds for teachers — donors also have the option to send prints directly to displaced classrooms. On Sept. 15, 2016, DeWulf visited the River Parishes Community College campus in Sorrento, Louisiana, where 39 donated prints will decorate the temporary classrooms of St. Amant Primary, Galvez Primary and Lake Elementary School.
“In a school, I think it’s important to have artwork on the walls,” says Dewulf, whose photography hangs in Berry Residence Hall’s Honors Living-Learning Community gallery. “Especially in a temporary setting like a make-shift school. My art has a message — Louisiana people are strong and really look out for one another in times of crisis.”
The teachers in Sorrento had no idea when they would be able to return to their schools. DeWulf hopes that as media attention surrounding the floods gradually fades and donations dry up, he can continue supporting teachers. He plans on donating money again in December, next spring and at the end of the school year as he continues to sell prints and paintings.
“I think art heals, and art has a power to be a force for good,” DeWulf says.
And just as the residents of New Orleans endured and came back stronger after Katrina, DeWulf is confident that people in central and southwest Louisiana affected by the floods will rebuild and continue to rise above the challenges ahead.
This article was written by Laura Cergol, a senior from Frederick, Maryland, studying communication and linguistics in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a William Aiken Fellow and a member of the Global Scholars program.