No ordinary pot party
Not long ago, I received an invitation — extraordinary in every way. So too is the person who sent it.
“I would like to invite you to a very important birthday celebration! One of my vases Anduse is signed 'Jean Gautier Anduse 1810' which makes it 200 years old this year!! Just imagine how many storms, moves, repottings, winters and fashion trends it has outlasted!!”
After identifying with this last point, I began making plans to attend a party for a pot. An idea that only Robert Smith would come up with; an occasion that no one could create more beautifully. I know because I’d attended another birthday party Robert hosted only hours after Katrina made landfall (135 miles east of his home) and he made it look as easy as it was “off the chart” elegant, as Robert likes to say.
I found Robert in a roundabout way. Literally. In the early '90s I was in an antique shop in New Orleans, looking upward alongside my friend Genevieve, who was admiring these “divine” drapery rings. “They’re not for sale,” the woman behind the counter told us, which automatically put Genevieve on a new project.
“Well, can you tell me where you got them?” Genevieve politely persisted. The woman either couldn’t or wouldn’t say but the next day, my friend was on the telephone with the owner of the antique shop … commencing the investigation like Sherlock Holmes. I knew it was just a matter of time. Like the Watson I was in such matters —all I had to do was follow her lead.
Sure enough, within days Genevieve called. “Those rings came from Robert Smith in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana,” she said.
“Breaux Bridge?” I responded, “where in the world’s that?” One week later, we were driving east on I-10 from Houston, never dreaming that 3 ½ hours later — we’d find another world with more than brass rings and meet (perhaps from a previous life) a pirate ... certainly a gentleman from 18th-century France. There are photographs to prove it!
A Vision of a House
You have to see this place to believe it — starting the second you make the turn into the drive to his shop. The first time I took it, I thought, “This is right out of The Wind in the Willows.” The property alone seemed to plead for a picnic. Sprinkled throughout the live oaks (dripping with moss) are several structures from privies to pigeonnaires but just beyond, you see the main house, which serves as Robert’s shop, Au Vieux Paris Antiques.
Robert fell in love with the 1821 Creole house when he first saw it covered in vines. He had it relocated to the property in 1974 and then set about restoring it. He opened the shop in 1985, filling the house with 18th- and 19th-century French furniture, accessories, hand-spun woven linens, and more. Taken altogether, Southern Accents described the place perfectly, “highly realistic fantasy of 19th century French life in the New World.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t make the party. However, 75 others were able to attend and they traveled from Houston, Boston, New York, Santa Fe, all over Louisiana and even Saint-Hilaire, France — carrying gifts from flowers “cut or potted” to assorted cakes. A Vase Anduse collector couldn’t attend but sent 20 long-stem yellow roses “one for each decade” and a kind note to Mr. Gautier. Novisi Hazel brought her famous carrot cake from Novisi’s Café in Lafayette — 12-year-old Hebert Leavitt, made his “punkin” nut cake, which “he composed from several different recipes found in Google,” Robert said.
Virginia Yongue brought a pound cake and rum cake made from her family recipe. Even the builder of Robert’s home attended. (Jim Armentor is the white bearded fellow standing on the front stoop with Robert.)
The celebrated vase stands 40” tall; is approximately 30” in circumference (give or take) and weighs 100 pounds empty. Robert purchased the vase in 1999 from a dealer in Uzes, France. It took six men and a custom built “inclined plane” to position the vase where it now sits at Robert’s house atop a pedestal in a raised flowerbed. Jean Gautier, the creator of the vase, was a descendant of the oldest documented Anduse family of potters, but here’s what Robert finds most remarkable and, clearly, worth celebrating …
“At 200 years of age,” Robert said, “the ‘birthday’ vase is still in great condition … and has survived wars in France, freezes, shipment to Louisiana, four major hurricanes here as well as lack of appreciation during various periods of changing tastes and fashion trends.”
On the day after the birthday party, I received another e-mail from Robert ...
“M. Jean Gautier and his 200-year-old vase Anduse are very grateful to the many happy well wishers who attended their birthday celebration, especially if it meant for some, hours of flying or driving. Many thanks also for the lovely gifts and sweet notes they received. (Neither one consumes alcoholic beverages, so I have kindly offered to help out a lot with the proper disposal of all those gift bottles of fine French champagne and vintage wine!) Find here some photos documenting this event. I am really pleased and very grateful I was there for this fete!”
Reading this made me remember something Robert said the first time I visited his shop. I’d seen something and said “sensational!” to which Robert quietly responded, “We specialize in sensational.”
Indeed he does ... and the extraordinary.