Tshirts: K&B Drugstores in New Orleans Culture

Since Katrina, a cottage industry of New Orleans-inspired goods and tshirts has sprouted. These are not the “I Got Bourbon-Faced on Shit Street” shirts that you see in the French Quarter. Rather, these are a collection of inside jokes and local references that make New Orleanians smile. Explaining these jokes to out of towners is a reminder of how much in speak  and shared knowledge there is in this city.

Since this blog tries to explain what it’s like to live in New Orleans and acclimate those new to the city, I’m kicking off an occasional series of posts that explains the stories behind the shirts. I’ve already written about the The Trinity shirt at Dirty Coast. Today, we’re going to talk about K&B Drugstores.

“More than just a just a drugstore”
K&B was a drugstore chain that opened its first store in the late 1890s. The drugstores inspired fierce customer loyalty, as detailed in this article on NOLA.com. By the 1990s the Katz & Besthoff company had 50 stores in NOLA, and nearly 200 stores in six states. K&B was known for its house brands, including ice cream, beer and vodka!

K&B vodka

K&B ice cream

The company was sold to Rite Aid in 1997. K&B was headquartered in Lee Circle, and you can see KB written on the side of the building to this day.

K&B Plaza Near Lee Circle

K&B on 732 Canal Street.

K&B on Carrollton and Oak. It is now a Rite Aid.

K&B Purple

Storyville's K&B shirt, in K&B Purple

Anytime I’ve spoken with New Orleanians about K&B they always mention “K&B purple,”  which was the signature color of the company. This great post about K&B from GoNola.com details the back story. “A local paper products company had a cancelled order from a different store, leaving them stuck with several rolls of purple wrapping paper. K and B bought that paper at a discount, and the color caught on! Soon it became the main color of the drugstore’s “double-check” logo.”

Now you can buy K&B shirts from both Fleurty Girl and Storyville, in K&B Purple.

The K&B Jingle:

Look at almost every corner
And what do you see
A big purple sign that says
Friendly K&B
Variety, value and reliability
That’s what you get at your friendly K&B
K&B Drugstores

Fleurty Girl's K&B tshirt

K&B in Art

Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B, by Jimmy Descant

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art (where I’m a docent) has an exhibition of the work of Jimmy Descant, a self-taught assemblage artist who glues, staples and nails all sorts of found objects to wood to create his artistic statements. I urge everyone to go view the exhibition before it closes on April 8. One of pieces I really responded to is called “Nights of Drunk Driving in the Days of K&B.” The piece resembles a cross-section of an automobile, with cans of K&B beer strewn about the sides, as if they came flying out in a crash (there are even K&B pencils inside the car.) Unlike most of the K&B nostalgia I’ve seen that idealizes a simpler time, this ode to the past is filled with regret for reckless behavior.

Lagniappe: A Monster in Mid-City

(or Bayou St. John, if you prefer. I prefer alliteration.)

Look who I saw on the bridge that leads to City Park!
As we learned in the post A Monster in the Warehouse District, this Monster is the work of Parse Gallery‘s Ricardo Barba. If you wade through the slideshow here, you can you can see IKIL in better days. It seems that the Monster is digesting a lot of trash. I blame Mardi Gras, but who knows, really?

The Monster from behind, at the corner of Carrollton and Esplanade.

The Monster is locked up good and tight!

Previously in Lagniappe:

Don’t Lick the Busstop
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Swim at Your Own Risk
Eaten Alive
Mardi Gras Float Storage

Lagniappe: A Monster in the Warehouse District

I spotted this guy on outside the Contemporary Arts Center a few weeks ago:

I initially decided that he was a baby-eating monster, but upon further reflection he might be a regular monster, eating regular things–  we’re just privy to his digestion process. I empathize with him. Like all of us, this monster gets messy when he eats. (Or is that just me?)

He seems like he is made out an old newspaper rack. I’ve read about artists co opting these racks, but this is the first time I’ve seen one. Does anyone know anything about this?

I checked in with him today, after docent training at the Ogden. He’s still there, but it seems like someone had some fun with him. Or perhaps he is just tired from baby eating, and needed a lean?

UPDATE, 2/2/12: According to the CAC’s Associate Director, the robot appeared around the openings of Prospect.2, the citywide art showcase, and the CAC’s NOLA Now Part I exhibition. Eventually, Ricardo Barba from the Parse Gallery’s collective revealed himself to the CAC’s curator. On Parse’s website you can see pictures of Barba’s other newspaper-box sculptures, including one that looks eerily similar to our monster man (in his better days.)

The Parse Gallery (previously unknown to me) (which doesn’t mean anything) is dedicated to building a progressive and playful art community. They’re located on 134 Carondalet street.

Previously in Lagniappe:

Don’t Lick the Busstop
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Swim at Your Own Risk
Eaten Alive
Mardi Gras Float Storage

Docent Training at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

The view from of the Warehouse District, from the Ogden's second story windows.

Last Tuesday, I began training to become a docent at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. (A docent leads museum tours.) The Ogden focuses on the visual arts and culture of the American South, which they consider to be the 16 states that run west to Oklahoma and Texas; north to D.C., Maryland and Virginia; and east to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the country’s first museum exclusively devoted to Southern art, with the idea being if if there’s such a thing as Southern music and Southern food, how we all don’t know of something called Southern art?  And how do you define Southern art? Well, according to the Ogden, Southern art brings together the diverse expressions of Southern culture that emote the spirit of the region.

This raises the question: How do you define what makes something “Southern?” 

Theorra Hamblett (1895-1977) A Hayride and a Tragedy, 1965, oil on canvas. Collection of the University Museum, University of Mississippi. Bequest of Theora Hamblett. (I took this photo on a visit to the Ogden this summer)

This question was the jumping off point in last week’s training.  How do we define the South and what we thought it means to live here? Through our discussions and a movie called The South as a Sense of Place, that was made specifically for the Ogden (and narrated by Morgan Freeman!) our group filled in some of the blanks. Here are notes from my notes:

What Does the Term “The South” Mean?  What Separates It From the Rest of the Country?

  • The South is as much an idea of place as a place of itself. Calling this large area the South and unifying it under one umbrella smooths over its contradictions and contrasts.
  • The idea of the South is also a political idea, formed by an actual or perceived notion of shared beliefs, values and attitudes.
  • This region has known a different past than the rest of the country and endured different political and social struggles.
  • Southerners derive their identity from their roots, rather from their possessions. It’s an attitude.

What are Characteristics of the South?

  • History: Family life is the center of personal experience
  • Community
  • Hospitality
  • Celebrations
  • Sense of identity, sense of place: It feels different than the rest of the country
  • Connection to a past that in some cases is divisive
  • It’s slow to change
  • There is a lure of decadence
  • Tradition
  • Revelry
  • The fashion is different, often due to the weather
  • Accents
  • Slower pace
  • Religion is much more a part of daily life
  • Region-specific food, music and literature
  • Sports are very important in the south

Archie Bongé (1900-1936) Country Church, 1932, oil on canvas. Gift of the Dusti Bongé Foundation. (I took this photo on a visit to the Ogden this summer)

I took a ton of notes that will definitely serve as a jumping-off point for upcoming blog posts. In the conversations last week we also talked about what makes New Orleans slightly different than the South, but that’s definitely an idea worth exploring.

What do you all (erm, y’all) think? What are other characteristics of the South? Also, what would a museum of Northern art look like? Or a museum of Midwestern art?