Rhodes First-Year Student Reflects on Creating Artwork After Hurricane Katrina

First-year student and artist Meredith Graf of New Orleans witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina firsthand the last week of August in 2005. But she remained hopeful that the city would one day rebuild with the assistance of the nation.

Graf drew renderings of then President George Bush from a photograph that was taken on one of his visits to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, she received a thank you letter from him.

“I wanted to help people have hope,” says Graf about why she used artwork as a response to Hurricane Katrina. “All the news showed was deaths, destruction, water, and who was to blame. I drew what was called the ‘Helping Hands.’ President Bush appreciated them so much he invited me to The White House. The drawing features two hands—one in color and one in black and white. One hand was to show how what had occurred was black and white. However, then came the color—the life in the people who were going to rebuild the city by helping each other up and standing up one another on their feet.”

While her family was evacuated to Hattiesburg, MS, Graf also met sports illustrator Jim McQueen, who saw her budding talent and became her art mentor. “My art teacher kept me positive,” she says. “He always knew what to say and had so much trust in God.”

Since Hurricane Katrina, she has created other portraits with lifelike details and has received much recognition for her artwork including a resolution by the Louisiana legislature. In addition, Graf sculpted a bald eagle that is displayed in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and her work has been displayed in the office of New Orleans mayor, the offices of New York Life on Madison Avenue, and the office of the founder of NFL Films.

More recently, Graf has designed the cover image for a fish and wildlife magazine that will be published this fall. The Louise S. McGehee High School graduate plans to study art while at Rhodes.