Quarter Business
Etching by H. H. Mitchell

Quarter Business: New Orleans French Quarter Etching by H. H. Mitchell

“Quarter Business,” etching by H. H. Mitchell. (The embossed fleur-de-lis Mitchells logo appears in this display only for purposes of image security.)

“Quarter Business,” original etching by H. H. Mitchell depicting the Saint Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo as seen from Saint Peter and Chartres Streets in the French Quarter, New Orleans. Edition of 200, pressed by the artist from the etched copper plate onto Arches Cover paper. Dated 1983 and signed in the plate. Each print titled, numbered, and signed in pencil by the artist. Plate size 9 x 12 inches. Deckle-edged paper size 11 x 15 inches. Unmatted, unframed, shipped in sturdy mailing tube.

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About the Scene

At the center of the image is New Orleans' Saint Louis Cathedral, flanked on the near side by the Cabildo and on the far side by its matching twin the Presbytère. The Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States; most of its present form was constructed in 1850. The Cabildo and Presbytère were built in the 1790s.

Chartres Street is reserved for pedestrian use as it passes in front of the Cabildo, Cathedral, and Presbytère.Chartres Street recedes in the distance, passing by the left end of the 1850-era Lower Pontalba Building. The Lower Pontalba Building faces its twin the Upper Pontalba Building across Jackson Square (out of view to the right of this composition).

These five buildings, two sets of “twins” and a cathedral, are the most architecturally, culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant cluster in New Orleans. Together they frame Jackson Square, one of the most grand public spaces in the United States.

From the Artist

Walking down the 600 block of Chartres Street, one senses the narrowness of the street, the presence of the balconies that overhang the sidewalk, and the deep shadows created by the buildings. Then one comes to the Saint Peter Street intersection and suddenly emerges into a bright and airy world.

Through the composition of the etching, I wanted to convey the feeling of the structural masses on the left with spires pointing heavenward, the long manmade vista continuing down Chartres Street beyond Jackson Square, and the bright openness of the sky above. And then, in contrast, down to Earth and in the foreground, two figures are involved in their workaday activities.

These two are engaged in typical Quarter businesses that visitors to the Square would see. There were the artists who set up their displays around the Square, often with a wooden cart that transported their wares along with the tools and supplies of their trade. Second, there were the very young shoe-shining entrepeneurs, who carried (and sat on) wooden boxes transporting the tools and supplies of their trade.

I placed myself as the artist with sketchpad, propped on his cart, even though I never actually worked on the Square. It was easier to pose as a Jackson Square artist than to ask one of our friends or acquaintances to be my model for this etching. And the youngster with the shoeshine station is a generic 11-year-old. His real-life counterpart would hail an approaching tourist, “Hey, mister, I'll bet you a quarter I can tell you where you got those shoes!…You got 'em at the corner of Chartres and Saint Peter! You owe me a quarter!” And for a few more quarters, the gentleman could negotiate the polishing of his scuffed and dusty shoes. (It's hard to believe now, in the days of Nike and New Balance, that back in the 1970s and 80s, almost all men were wearing black, brown, cordovan, or tan leather shoes requiring frequent care. The shoeshine businessman's polish options always included at least those four colors.)

In the etching process, the foreground areas of the copper plate received about two and a half times the acid-bath as the distant background, with four intermediate zones. After the line drawing was etched in six baths, areas of light aquatint were added, similarly timed.

– H. H. Mitchell

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