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Home is Where the Art is

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Home
Oct 1st, 2021
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ARTICLE BY LAURA CASON   PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

Rebekah Boyd Lawrence moved back to Louisiana and purchased the historic Neville House. Originally built in 1905, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Lawrence has always dreamed of owning a beautiful old white house, operating an art gallery and having a bed and breakfast – the Neville House has made those dreams reality.

Neville House is a childhood dream come true for owner and proprietor Rebekah Boyd Lawrence. Ever since she was a little girl the large white house on the corner of Hudson Lane and North Third Street in Monroe, Louisiana has captured her imagination. She recalls staring out the window of her mother’s car as they passed by on day trips from their farm in Calhoun to the Garden District to shop. She wondered what life must be like there and what kinds of people lived in a house like that? Pulling up it’s not hard to see why; the two-story neoclassical sears kit house towers symmetrically over the front lawn. Clad in white cypress clapboard siding with the original milk glass windows and dark green shutters, the house seems to pluck you from the present and throw you several decades back in time. The house is framed by a hand laid brick path, two aged magnolias and a second-story balcony. 

As you enter Neville House you’ll pass through its antique door painted green to match the shutters with a large beveled, oval glass pane and an old fashioned hand twist Shopkeeper’s doorbell. Upon entering the house you will be greeted with an eclectic mixture of early 1900s southern architecture and modern furnishings. Rebekah describes the house’s one-of-a-kind style as “Southern charm with a European vibe.” Almost the entire first floor has been converted to an open concept combined living space and quasi art gallery with dark hardwood flooring and clean white walls. Neoclassical columns frame the entryway and there are a grand total of five mantels in the house. Three on the first floor, one in the study and two mirrored against each other in the art gallery. The other two are upstairs in the main bedroom and the den. Each mantel is finished in a unique style. The two mirrored mantels downstairs are feminine and masculine style counterparts reflecting the original design of the house, which included two first floor parlors: one for the men and the other for the ladies as was traditional at the time of the house’s construction. The kitchen features a wall papered in old New Yorker magazine covers and 12-foot shiplap ceilings. Upstairs in the main bedroom is a king-size platform bed and an assortment of Moroccan, Haitian, African, Egyptian, Indonesian, Native American, Primitive and Mexican art and antiquities. Every piece in the house, whether furniture or decor, has a history and a story and they’ve all carefully been hand selected by Rebekah. Some of the true standouts are the large black feathered, African Juju hat hanging over the mantel in the main bedroom, the clawfoot cast iron tub in the bathroom, and the historic Carriage house that Rebekah hopes to one day convert into a studio for local artists. 

Originally built in 1905, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by Ernest L. Neville, local educator and superintendent of Monroe City schools. Neville House began as a family home for Mr. Neville, his wife Allie and their daughter Sarah who was born in the home. Mr. Neville was a very curious man creatively. He made wood tools by hand which he used to craft the cabinetry in the kitchen that remains today. Rebekah says his great-grandson recently discovered the tools hidden in the walls of the carriage house on a visit. Mr. Neville also had a passion for gardening. He was specifically gifted with camellias propagating his own camellia species on the property over his years of residency there. Rebekah took me to the backyard to an area behind the carriage house which she has fondly and aptly named “Camellia Grove.” In the grove you will find twelve,  approximately eighty–year-old camellias flourishing several feet high.  Memorabilia on loan from Mr. Neville’s great-grandson can be seen scattered about the first floor including a memorial plaque and several antique photographs of the house in its original state with a large wraparound porch and the family themselves. Rebekah says she wants the house to honor its history and serve as an education for those who come to visit.

Neville House has been made and remade into various institutions throughout the years, from the headquarters for the Junior League to a psychologist’s office. Each of these new iterations of the house’s use has added an additional layer of history preserved through the peculiar landmarks each new occupant left behind. The second bedroom upstairs still has the “Waiting Room” sign affixed to its door from the psychologist’s stint in the home and the bathroom has a vintage metal Harley Davidson emblem covering the old drain pipe that Mr. Neville’s great-grandson attached from his own personal motorcycle during a renovation. Rebekah loves that the house tells its story through the quirks it has accumulated over the years. She believes that is part of Neville House’s charm.  

However,  Rebekah doesn’t just want visitors to be educated in the history of the home but also in the arts. There are three things she has always wanted in life: to have an old white house, to run a bed and breakfast, and to have an art gallery. Through Neville House she is accomplishing all three. The house is listed on Airbnb for rental as a chance to stay with art. Rebekah has curated a wide variety of local artists’ works and plans to rotate solo exhibitions for them as well. Neville House also participated in the Herons on the Bayou purchasing Mario Mata’s sculpture “La Garza”  earlier in 2021. The heron stands on the front corner of the property and is Huichol beaded using polymer and metal as the base. She is passionate about her plans for Neville House and hopeful that opening its doors for guests will offer a window into the vibrant art scene in Monroe that many travelers miss while staying in chain hotels near the interstate. Rebekah also hopes the Neville House will help the garden district’s revitalization effort gain traction.  The current exhibition in the house is the work of local Caroline Youngblood. The solo exhibition, “Riverton, 1937,” is comprised of fifteen 14” x 20” charcoal and watercolor studies; five large charcoal drawings of various sizes; seven large paintings in water media on stretched and prepared burlap; nineteen 14” x 20’ graphite and watercolor studies; and seven larger charcoal and oil paintings which she completed as a part two of the series a few years later. The first half of the series was completed in 2012 during a three-month residency at Centre d’Art, Marnay-sur-Seine, France. These images were created using still frames from a 1937 8mm family film shot on their farm in Caldwell Parish. The majority of the scenes show people entering, participating in, and exiting an outdoor family gathering. Each piece offers a glimpse into lives of southerners enjoying the little pleasures of life in post-Depression Era, North Delta, Louisiana. Caroline explained that as she began studying her selected stills of film, she noticed that individual frames in the film looked like paintings. The grainy, faded nature of the old film had a watercolor-esque quality to it and she was inspired to paint them. Her selections tell the story of the region’s hospitality, social customs, and culinary heritage as the family converse and sit down to a meal in an almost French Impressionist style. On the second floor a few more of Caroline’s works are on display from various other series she’s completed, including a few pieces based on some old Kodachrome slides she found in an antique store. 

N

eville House is the Lawrence’s personal home that they have opened to the community with the mission of educating and connecting their guests to the local arts scene, established artists, and Northeast Louisiana’s diverse art culture. They hope all who pass through their historic doors at Neville House will be inspired to invest in and support the arts. The Neville House will be hosting an invitation only event called “Dinner on the Grounds: Riverton, 1937” on October 28th from 5-8pm as an opportunity for the public to tour the house, view the artists’ exhibition, meet the artists, and have dinner. Neville House will also be featuring Caroline Youngblood as their solo artist during the upcoming December Downtown Arts Alliance Gallery Crawl happening December 2nd from 5-9pm. If you aren’t one of the lucky few on the invite list for Dinner on the Grounds and you can’t make it to the Crawl, have no fear,you can arrange a private tour to view the art by contacting Rebekah Boyd Lawrence at 318-348-6045 or at nevillehousegardendistrict@gmail.com. The house can also be found on Airbnb for rental by searching in the monroe area for the listing “Stay w/ Art at Garden District Gem: Neville House.”

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