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Artist James Michalopoulos silver pendant helps rebuild Girls Hope home
Posted by Sheila Stroup, Columnist, The Times-Picayune February 13, 2009
"You know the work of James Michalopoulos ‐‐ his vibrant oil paintings of leaning shotgun houses, bright with color and movement; his iconic Jazz Fest posters that sell out soon after they're released; his dreamy landscapes of the French countryside.
But you may not know he has created a pendant that would make a perfect valentine.
The signed and numbered sterling silver shotgun house with a dancing streetlight in front of it is not just a lovely symbol of New Orleans. It is also helping rebuild the Girls Hope home on Baudin Street in Mid‐City.
"I've never done anything like this before, but I believe very much in education," Michalopoulos said. "We have to give kids the skills they need to thrive economically, personally and creatively in their lives."
That's the mission of Boys Hope Girls Hope New Orleans, part of an international nonprofit organization started by a Jesuit priest in 1977.
The program provides a nurturing home environment and high school and college scholarships for young people who are academically capable but in desperate need of help to develop their potential.
Bright, motivated students come to Boys Hope Girls Hope for a variety of reasons: economic problems, an unstable home life, the death of a parent.
"If you give them a safe home and a solid education, it makes a world of difference," director Cory Howat said the last time I wrote about the group.
That was on Aug. 25, 2005, when they were planning to spend the weekend celebrating their 25th anniversary in New Orleans.
The raised boys home on North Carrollton Avenue, built in 1999, had major damage to the first floor but was salvageable. But Hurricane Katrina destroyed the girls house around the corner, and the office behind the house, where Cory had left 25 years of photographs wrapped in plastic.
"That was probably the toughest part," Cory said when I talked to him again recently. "All the memories were gone."
It was more than a year before the boys were able to move back into their renovated house, and the girls are still staying in a rental house near Dominican, where they go to school.
But little by little, their new home is taking shape.
"We're dying to get back into it," Cory said. "There was enough of the framing done at Christmastime for me to take the girls over there and let them pick out their bedrooms for a present."
He hopes their new house will be ready by July, the seventh anniversary of the 2002 Girls Hope home opening.
Michalopoulos' gift of the pendant was an unexpected blessing that began to take shape a few years ago when Cory met the artist and asked him if he would do a poster of the new girls' house to raise money for construction. Then the idea began to evolve.
"He likes to work in metal and sculpture," Cory said. "He does a lot of that in his summers in France."
So Michalopoulos created a sterling silver house to help build a real one.
"It has the feel and look of his other work, with the odd angles," Cory said. "It's like a little piece of New Orleans."
Partnering with Boys Hope Girls Hope was a natural for the artist, who had some rough times when he was growing up in Connecticut and left home when he was a young teenager. A family friend, who saw his potential, enrolled him in an Episcopal boarding school.
"For the first time, I was in an environment that encouraged and supported learning," he said. "It utterly transformed my life."
So he is happy to support a group that's transforming lives in his adopted city. He especially likes knowing the young people at Boys Hope Girls Hope learn to live a life of service, that they're expected to use their talents to make the world a better place.
"It's not just about making smart kids," he said. "It's about teaching them to reach out, to enrich, to contribute to the community."
They have a good example of that in his shiny little jewel of a gift."
-Sheila Stroup, February 13, 2009
The Hon. Adrian G. Duplantier Girls Hope Home opened its doors on November 1, 2009.
The "Hope‐alopoulos" pendant costs $285, and all proceeds go to the remaining capital costs of rebuilding the Girls Hope home.
To order a pendant click here.
To order by phone, call 504.484.7744.