H. Alvin Sharpe: The Remarkable Life and Legacy of a Louisiana Artist
Louisiana, with its rich tapestry of cultures, has been home to countless artists, musicians, and writers. One such artist, H. Alvin Sharpe, stands out not just for his artistic talent but for his contribution to the state’s heritage in more ways than one. This article delves deep into the life and work of this multifaceted artist who left an indelible mark on the state of Louisiana.
Early Life and Education
H. Alvin Sharpe was born on August 22, 1907, in Northwood, Ohio. An early interest in art brought him to New Orleans in the 1930s where he studied at the John McCrady School of Art. This move not only shaped his career but also developed a deep-seated love for the state and its cultural mosaic.
Sharpe’s oeuvre is striking in its versatility. Over the years, he tried his hand at various forms of art, including oil paintings, watercolors, sketches, and miniatures. His detailed illustrations were also popular in numerous publications.
However, his skills were not confined to the canvas. He was also a talented musician, sculptor, writer, and historian. His multi-dimensional talent only added to his stature and earned him the nickname “Renaissance Man of New Orleans.”
Arguably, one of Sharpe’s most lasting legacies to Louisiana is his work on the design of the state’s official flag and seal. His sketches of the “pelican in her piety” remain a part of Louisiana’s visual identity.
Beyond these official emblems, Sharpe’s passion for Louisiana’s history and its rich culture reflected in his countless paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life, landmarks, and the state’s vibrant festivities. These artworks not only became popular souvenirs for tourists but also served as a visual chronicle of Louisiana’s heritage.
H. Alvin Sharpe and the Mardi Gras Doubloons
One of the most colorful and vibrant events associated with Louisiana, particularly New Orleans, is the Mardi Gras celebration. It’s a festival that is rich in tradition, music, parades, and unique collectibles. Among those collectibles, the Mardi Gras doubloons hold a special place, and we have H. Alvin Sharpe to thank for this.
In 1960, Sharpe approached the captain of the Krewe of Rex, Darwin Fenner, with a novel idea: to mint aluminum coins, or doubloons, that could be thrown to the crowds during parades. Before this, krewes primarily threw glass beads and other trinkets. The introduction of doubloons was a game-changer. Not only were they safer and more durable than many other throws, but they also became instant collectibles.
Sharpe’s initial designs were intricate and showcased his impeccable artistry. These doubloons often featured the emblem of the krewe on one side and the theme of that year’s parade on the other. They became instant hits among parade-goers and collectors alike.
Over the years, the popularity of Mardi Gras doubloons soared. They began to be minted in different materials like bronze, silver, and even gold for special members of the krewes. This tradition that Sharpe initiated has become an intrinsic part of the Mardi Gras festivities.
Today, even as other throws like beads and plush toys remain popular, the doubloons still hold a cherished spot. They are not just souvenirs but also artifacts that chronicle the themes and evolution of Mardi Gras parades over the years. For many, collecting these doubloons year after year has become a cherished tradition.
Later Life and Legacy
Sharpe’s commitment to his craft did not wane with age. Even in his later years, he continued to be a prolific artist, producing art and exhibiting his works at various galleries. He also took it upon himself to mentor young artists, ensuring that the next generation would continue to carry the torch of artistic expression.
H. Alvin Sharpe passed away on January 18, 1982. But his legacy continues to live on. His artworks are not just a testament to his extraordinary talent but also a window into the heart and soul of Louisiana.
H. Alvin Sharpe’s introduction of the Mardi Gras doubloons added a unique element to the Mardi Gras celebrations. His legacy, therefore, is not just seen in the art galleries or the state flag but is also experienced every year during the vibrant Mardi Gras parades when the air is filled with the shimmer of flying doubloons. His influence truly touched the heart of Louisiana’s traditions and will continue to do so for generations to come.