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A notable artist revives a midcentury modern house with nature as his muse
Artist Herman Mhire designed a desk for his minimalist master suite surrounded by custom windows that provide views of serene grounds with up-lit oaks and a pitched-roof studio dramatized by abundant glass.
Ask the globe-trotting Francophile, Herman Mhire, to describe his aesthetic philosophy, and the prodigious Cajun artist readily professes modernist leanings.
“I’m fascinated by midcentury modern design because it represents the time in which I was born,” says Mhire. “I admire advances made in the use of industrial material and technologies for residential and commercial construction as well as interior furnishings, and by midcentury modern’s strong interest in eliminating visual barriers between interior and exterior spaces.”
Since acquiring a circa 1940s midcentury modern residence in 1991, the venerated Lafayette native has been meticulously transforming the house and grounds as an ongoing work of art.
Improvements demonstrating Mhire’s unique style and propensity for perfectionism have included multiple upgrades for the Zen-like gardens he designed, and the addition of a new studio dramatized by walls of glass.
Harnessing elements of modernity, Mhire replicated the idea in the main house. He opened up interior spaces by replacing numerous, adjoining windows with energy-efficient, impact-resistant annealed glass. Views of his beloved gardens were essential to the design.
Another transformation occurred in September, when the guest house was converted into a chic Airbnb rental with midcentury modern elements.
Mhire’s style is characterized by the clean simplicity of sun-flooded rooms, his collection of significant midcentury pieces that spark conversation, and the strategic placement of vibrant paintings, prints and photographs gleaned from prior exhibits, including his 2017 “Beauty in the Beast” solo exhibition of 65 digital archival prints.
“The exhibition expressed my renewed interest in photography as a medium,” he says. “My current body of work is based upon photographs I took one year ago, on my way to the Tashcen bookstore on the rue de Buci in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.”
In conjunction with the solo exhibition, Mhire was honored by ULL with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The former art professor is the founding director of the Paul and Lula Hilliard University Art Museum, where he curated more than 200 exhibitions. The Hilliard was Lafayette’s first professionally designed art museum. Mhire’s architectural collaboration brought national design awards.
A bilingual pioneer of the arts, he is the founding president of Festival International de Louisiane, and frequently travels to Europe as a tour guide.
“In January, 1985, I presented an exhibition of narrative paintings on glass from Senegal, West Africa,” says Mhire. “To complement the exhibition, Senegalese musicians traveled to Lafayette to perform their traditional music. In the summer, I traveled to Amman, Jordan where I worked on an international traveling exhibition. Returning to Lafayette, I visited museums and attended concerts in Amsterdam and New York. The overall culmination was so powerful that in August, I had an idea to organize an annual visual and performing arts festival in Lafayette.”
Mhire’s beloved festival, now considered the largest free outdoor Francophone arts fest in the world, will be held April 25-29 in downtown Lafayette. More than 300,000 patrons are expected to attend.
In April, he will lead a group of travelers on a voyage to Paris, St. Petersburg and Moscow to explore the grand museums, concert halls, gardens and architectural treasures. The tour culminates with a cruise along Russia’s legendary Volga River.