Between Heaven and Hell, a collaboration between Robin, his brother Simon, and the Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC), is a pictorial history. Accompanying Robin’s panorama of the city, hanging precariously between heaven and hell, is a decorative interpretation of the New Orleans story in pictures – and attached to that, is Simon’s interactive guide, which introduces visitors to the stories behind the image.

Researched by New Orleans-based historian Sarah Borealis and told by British writer Cathy Loughran, they cover the birth of the city, the misery and ongoing legacy of the slave trade; the Civil War; and disastrous weather events that continue to threaten New Orleans.

But they also cover the joyfully creative traditions of the city that parades at every opportunity, and that brought jazz to the world.

Also celebrated is the cast of eccentrics and local legends who are central to the New Orleans story – from the pirate Jean Lafitte to the torturing slave mistress Delphine Lalaurie and the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Also featured are General Butler, scourge of the city during the Civil War occupation, and Champagne Charlie Heidsieck, jailed by Butler for spying. Lee Harvey Oswald, credited with the assassination of President Kennedy, comes into the picture, along with Ernie K-Doe; Tootie Montana, chief of chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indians; and Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, the man who kept his head at the height of the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

Among the episodes depicted in myriad images underpinning the panorama is the story of the New Orleans Arts and Crafts Club, with whom many of the city’s celebrated writers and artists were associated. In the early part of the 20th century the club met at the Seignouret-Brulatour house that is now the gallery – where the picturesque courtyard became the subject of numerous paintings by members of the club.

The club is now defunct, but the old house was purchased by THNOC. Its new lease of life as THNOC’s largest exhibition space is sponsored by the Helis foundation, and the gallery is described as a 300th anniversary gift to the city. It was here, in 2018-19, that the artwork was exhibited as part of the tricentennial Art Of The City exhibition.

The piece remains permanently accessible to all, anywhere in the world, thanks to Simon’s interactive guide, which, in addition to telling the stories, enables the browsing public link directly into treasures of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Simon Reynolds

Photo: Cuauhtemoc Garcia

Sarah Borealis

Cathy Woodhall