John and Toni Daigre were your typical young couple when they moved to Lafayette. He was enthusiastic about starting his pediatric practice, and she was excited about making the sprawling Victorian home on Myrtle Boulevard a special place to raise their family.
“When we moved in, we had very little furniture,” Toni says. “So we purchased a few antique pieces. In addition, I found a primitive cypress milk stool that I felt was rather fun and placed it by the marble fireplace.”
This simple purchase sparked a love of the primitive and a lifetime of selecting furnishings that fit the Daigres’ own personal style.
“People used to think of antiques as formal,” Toni says. “I loved mixing pieces as the results are warm and charming.”
This is reflected in the cozy home clothed in fig ivy on North Demanade that John and Toni elected to make their habitat in 1995. The year also signified the time period that John semi-retired and the couple became acquainted with folk art.
“Toni and I witnessed an auction in Atlanta where the Smithsonian purchased multiple pieces of folk art, paying very large sums for them, and at that point, I realized the importance of this type of Southern art,” John says.
Elated by their new discovery, the Daigres also realized that the simplicity and purity of this artistic expression mirrored the furnishings of the home while revealing a naturalistic view of life inherent in both.
“Folk artists paint mainly for self-fulfillment,” Toni says. “Their work is spontaneous and spiritual. They paint on anything available.”
“It is considered ‘outsider art,’ meaning not part of the mainstream,” adds John. “The painters themselves are untrained, but each one possesses a vision.”
The walls in the home are dressed in these renderings, many acquired from the artists themselves on side trips incorporated in the Daigres’ travels. Drawn by inspiring stories, John and Toni felt privileged to meet these masters of creativity and were intrigued that many small rural communities seemed unaware of such talent in their midst even though prestigious galleries were displaying their work.
“Jimmy Lee Sudduth of Fayette, Ala., is my favorite,” John says. “He painted with mud, infusing colors derived from plant material and house paint. His canvases were wood panels retrieved from old buildings on which he depicted the scenes and people that surrounded him.”
John and Toni strongly felt a spirit of kinship with the likes of Mose Tolliver, William “Willie Willie” Lamendola and Missionary Mary L. Proctor, allowing them the freedom to combine natural ingredients in their own setting.
These natural ingredients were procured on yet more side excursions of their journeys, this time devoted to the gathering of branches and stems including milo, Chinese tallow, berry and grapevine. Among the flora collected were hydrangea and rain tree blooms. Once home, Toni dried her woodland treasures and finished her picturesque décor with a magical flourish.
The folk art is the obvious focus of each room, though; each picture is colorful and thought-provoking. Early on, John and Toni felt motivated to market some of their finds, taking a delighted enjoyment in educating those interested in learning about this art form. They called their venture Cypress City Antiques.
It was not just any title cleverly pulled from the sky. “In 1897 my grandfather owned a soda pop bottling factory in Plaquemine,” says John. “It was a family business with the name of Cypress City Bottling Works. It just seemed natural for us to select it.”
The resulting philosophical view of the parents has been instilled in each one of the Daigres’ five children. Their homes reflect maybe not the flavor but an obvious attention to infusing a peaceful aura.
John and Toni still remember their first piece of folk art, although they were not aware that it was folk art at the time. It was a rendition of a Civil War scene. “Our whole house now is a walk down memory lane,” Toni says.