NPR logo Reporter's Note: How I Found Joey Bonhage

Reporter's Note: How I Found Joey Bonhage

Joey Bonhage at his New Orleans studio i

Joey Bonhage can usually be found at his workbench crafting intricate botanical sculptures in his worn studio in New Orleans' Garden District. Courtesy Phoebe Ferguson hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Phoebe Ferguson
Joey Bonhage at his New Orleans studio

Joey Bonhage can usually be found at his workbench crafting intricate botanical sculptures in his worn studio in New Orleans' Garden District.

Courtesy Phoebe Ferguson

In a small wooden house in New Orleans' Garden District, the sculptor Joey Bonhage was usually at his artist's bench, working under a pool of light. A framed newspaper article in the window told the story of an artist who made flowers from metal and was now suffering from emphysema.

Back in February and through Mardi Gras, I'd spent five weeks in New Orleans reporting for NPR. Most evenings at dusk I'd go out for a walk, admiring the fine, old houses. I'd pass the bright lights of the Commander's Palace restaurant, open again after a $6 million post-Katrina renovation. Lafayette Cemetery was across the street, gated and gloomy.

On the opposite corner, the house with the "Gallery" sign was comfortably worn and inviting, but I never went up to the door to say hello. I didn't want to bother anyone. The images stayed with me though, especially the small flower sculpture in the side window, with blossoms and leaves that were at once bright and somehow also dusty.

I wondered about the artist: How did he learn his craft? What did his voice sound like, and how was his illness affecting him?

My editor at NPR in Washington said, "Next time, go talk to him. Could be a good profile." And late in August, during a Gulf Coast trip, I called Joey Bonhage and asked if I could stop by. One night of laughing and storytelling became two.

Lots of mysteries remain about his life and his art, but I'm pleased I finally walked through his door.

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