Self Portrait in Paris, 1972

The City of Lake Charles will host The Genius of Noel Rockmore at the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center. An opening reception will be held Friday, September 5; doors will open at 5:30pm with a gallery talk beginning at 6pm. The event will be open to the public and refreshments will be served. Guests will meet Noel Rockmore’s lifelong art patron, Shirley Marvin, and the founders of the Noel Rockmore Project, Tee and Rich Marvin. They will share their fascinating story of how the forgotten body of works of a genius was discovered in storage units in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. 

In 1961, Noel Rockmore met art enthusiast and political activist, Shirley Marvin. At the time, she was a mother of three young children and married to a successful Baton Rouge real estate developer. Marvin was one of Rockmore's most devoted fans and became his patron for life. She began collecting his work with Rockmore often suggesting which paintings she should acquire. Marvin believed that Noel Rockmore was an artistic genius, and an unrecognized American Master of the 20 century. The only way to prove it in the future would be to have a significant bulk of the work together in one place.

Rockmore died in 1995, and Marvin's paintings found their way into storage units. Getting on in years, she had forgotten about the number of works she had collected. After Hurricane Katrina, Marvin asked her son, Rich, and his wife, Tee, to come down from Cape Cod to check on her storage units in New Orleans. When asked exactly how many paintings she had in storage, Marvin said,” I’m not sure but I think I have somewhere between twenty and seventy.” In October 2006, (Shirley Marvin was 84) Rich and Tee Marvin discovered over 1,400 Rockmore works in his mother’s storage facility. They also found 35 years worth of correspondence, every Rockmore brochure and news article, as well as a documentary film. Rich Marvin stated, “We had unearthed an important artistic archeological find we called The Tomb of Rockmore.” Marvin had been saving Rockmore art works and memorabilia with the intention of making him famous one day.

The Marvins, working with Rockmore's family, art dealers, collectors and museum curators, are now cataloging his works and promoting him. They estimate he produced about 15,000 pieces of art with 750 to 1,000 of those to be masterpieces. Most of the pieces in The Genius of Noel Rockmore have never before been seen. Many are Preservation Hall jazz musician portraits, and many are from private collectors, some of whom will be present at the reception. Some of the artworks will be for sale, giving the local community the opportunity to own this Master’s work.

Noel Rockmore, born in 1928, came from a privileged artistic upbringing in New York. His parents, Gladys Rockmore Davis and Floyd Davis, had received their own acclaim in illustrating, advertising and painting throughout World War II. Beginning at an early age their son, Noel Davis (later to become Rockmore) demonstrated creative abilities in both music and art. He is known for his varied styles, his early rise to fame, his Preservation Hall portraits, and for changing his name at the height of the popularity he had developed in New York City. He did two Life Magazine commissions and was invited to join the National Academy of Design. His art has hung at the Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He won the Hallgarten Prize, the Tiffany Fellowship (twice: 1956 & 1963), and The Wallace Truman Prize.

He painted in a realistic and old masters style throughout his childhood and adolescence. As the abstract expressionist movement gained momentum, Rockmore left New York and went to New Orleans where he could "dwell in creative obscurity” among fellow Bohemians and away from the commercial market. He then changed his name from Noel Davis to Noel Rockmore, adopting his mother’s surname. He led a hedonistic lifestyle, befriending the French Quarter characters who often became the subjects of his work such as Sister Gertrude Morgan and Ruthie the Duck Girl. In 1963, he was commissioned to document the jazz musicians of Preservation Hall and responded with approximately 750 portraits, known collectively as the Preservation Hall Portraits. He was also commissioned to create posters for sale to commemorate the very first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970.

After battling alcoholism and bipolar disorder, Rockmore died at age 66 of an untreated infection. When he was taken to the hospital, according to friends, he was admitted as a "street person." According to his friends, he sat up on the gurney and declared, "I'm not a street person, I'm a great artist." Noel Rockmore has been referred to as “America’s Picasso.” For more information on the Noel Rockmore Project, go to

Historic City Hall is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted. Charlestown Farmers’ Market is open on Bilbo Street behind the center every Saturday 8 a.m.-noon. For more information, please call 491-9147.