Welcome to the 1890s New Orleans Vodou parlor of Claire Lorgeoux, beautiful daughter of a wealthy New Orleans gentleman, and mistress of another. Her mother came from the Caribbean islands, which perhaps explains her love of bright island colors (and rum, but that's another story).
Madame Claire, a traditional Vodou mambo, keeps a small shop on a busy street in the French Quarter from which she sells supplies and performs ceremonies for the local Vodou community. A regular clientele of wealthy white New Orleanians for whom she reads fortunes, creates love potions, and contacts the dearly departed provides her with a nice nest egg and allows her to indulge her taste for the finer things in life. A stray cat has adopted the shop, and keeps watch from his favorite spot on a high shelf, hidden under the spider plant.
I can't vouch for the strict historical accuracy of this scene, but I did make an effort in that direction. The French doors with old-fashioned cut-glass knobs and details such as the crown molding and door frame are typical of New Orleans, and some details such as the heavy velvet curtain with fancy tassels and the spider plant are typically Victorian.
Madame Claire's shop is well-stocked with basics like gris-gris bags and poupées (aka poppets, or Vodou dolls); altar supplies like candles, incense, and lwa banners; and a variety of herbs. She also tells fortunes, her favorite methods being tea leaves and card reading. Like most card-readers in the Americas at the time, she uses regular playing cards. The deck on the table is "Le Jeu de Louis XV," a beautifully printed French deck published by Grimaud in 1890 (and the reading in progress tells of good fortune in store, for those of you who are wondering!)
Madame Claire maintains altars in her shop dedicated to her protective lwa. An elaborately framed portrait of the revered New Orleans Vodou queen Marie Laveau overlooks the altars. The central ancestral altar has a white cloth, a picture of a beloved grandmother, incense in a small burner, a bowl of water, and a food-offering bowl of white rice with a white candle in it.
The left-hand altar is dedicated to the Ghedes, specifically Baron Samedi and Maman Brigitte. It has a black velvet cloth and red and purple candles, and the veve (symbol) of Baron Samedi. Offerings include some of their favorite items: skulls (including one in a top hat), a silver Celtic cross and a cross made from elm twigs tied with purple thread, French rum from Martinique, hot red peppers, and roasted peanuts.
The right-hand altar is for Papa Legba, and is decorated in his favorite color of red. He has a cup for his offerings of rum, as well as some peppermint candies and favored trinkets like spare keys, bones, a feather from a black rooster, seashells, a pipe and pouch of tobacco, and a walking stick. A drawing of his veve is also on the altar. Another colorful banner of his veve hangs over the shelves by the door.
Almost everything in this scene was handmade by me, including:
- Handsculpted skulls, candleholders, cat, wrought iron fleur-de-lis curtain rod, rum bottle, chile peppers, rice (individually chopped grains!), candies, bones, walking stick, and tiny altar picture frame
- Altar, card-reading table, picture frame, and small blue shelf, all made from scrap wood and molding
- Faux French doors with brass hinges and fancy doorknobs
- Printies of antique playing cards and rum label, modern lwa banners and traditional veves, the French Quarter street-scene visible through the door, the small baskets (printed on the inside as well for more realism), and a photo of my grandmother
- Printed artwork includes a portrait of Marie Laveau and a folk scene by modern-day Haitian artist Voltaire Hector
- A lead gothic picture frame, gold-leafed with 18k gold and antiqued
- The "velvet" (actually ultrasuede, as I couldn't find my piece of red velvet) curtain with fancy tieback and tassels
- Glass jars filled with assorted herbs & spices
- Glass "love potion" jars with real corks, other handpainted containers, and
- Handpainted teacup & saucer with 18k gold trim and real tea leaves waiting to be read
The blue shutter-shelf is from Talina's Minis (Santa Fe, NM). The spider plant is from a kit by Miniatures by Roz.
This scene was created for a Cigar Box Contest. The box, 'Caribbean Rounds' from Honduras, is a nice old wooden box with dovetail joints and metal hinges and clasp. It measures 7.5" x 7.5" x 4". The border around the edges of the box is a traditional veve for Vodou drums.