Alternative Imprints: Jon Webb, Gypsy Lou, and the Hand-Sewn World of the Loujon Press

Through photographs, Loujon publications from the Edwin J. Blair Collection, correspondence, and paintings by Noel Rockmore, the exhibition explored Loujon’s small but celebrated catalog, as well as the Webbs’ relationships with other self-proclaimed outsiders in New Orleans and elsewhere.

Alternative Imprints: Jon Webb, Gypsy Lou, and the Hand-Sewn World of the Loujon Press
August 13–November 16, 2013
Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St.
Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Admission is free.

The Historic New Orleans Collection’s exhibition Alternative Imprints: Jon Webb, Gypsy Lou, and the Hand-Sewn World of the Loujon Press explored the work of 1960s counterculture artists Jon and  Louise “Gypsy Lou” Webb. The display was on view in the Williams Research Center, located at 410 Chartres Street, August 13-November 16, 2013.

The exhibition centered on items from the collection of Edwin J. Blair, who befriended the Webbs as a young man in the 1960s and donated his trove of Loujon Press memorabilia to THNOC in 2012. Blair also participated in THNOC’s New Orleans Life Story Project, which compiles the oral histories of notable New Orleans residents.

Like the eccentric couple, Blair was not a native of New Orleans but arrived to the city in the mid-20th-century. He left his Connecticut home for a job in the New Orleans oil business. Jon Webb (1905–1971) and his wife Lou (born 1916) traded Cleveland, Ohio, for New Orleans, lured by the city’s long literary tradition that included the likes of Lafcadio Hearn, Sherwood Anderson and, of course, Tennessee Williams.

“The Webbs were following in the footsteps of a long line of restless and creative people who perhaps found themselves out of place in their own time, but found acceptance and inspiration living in New Orleans,” said THNOC Senior Curator Mark Cave, who co-curated the exhibition with Assistant Library Cataloguer Nina Bozak.

Jon and Gypsy Lou settled in the French Quarter, which at the time was inhabited by many artists and free spirits, who were often considered social misfits. Gypsy Lou sold her original works of art along the streets, while Jon worked as a freelance writer and editor.

They founded the Loujon Press after Jon developed an idea for a literary magazine that would feature other “Bohemian fugitives.” They dubbed the magazine, appropriately enough, The Outsider, and each copy was produced with a hand-operated printing press. Although there were only four issues from 1961 to 1968, the publication garnered significant critical attention and featured written works by Gregory Corso and William Burroughs.

Jon and Gypsy Lou’s subsequent venture into book publishing was fueled in part by Blair, who provided some of the capital needed to publish Charles Bukowski’s first collection of poetry. “It Catches My Heart in Its Hands” celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, and the debut of its limited first edition in 1963 drew rave reviews and increased attention to the small press. Loujon went on to print Bukowski’s next collection, “Crucifix in a Deathhand” (1965), which featured illustrations by New Orleans–based artist Noel Rockmore, as well as two books by Henry Miller: “Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel” (1966) and “Insomnia or the Devil at Large” (1970). As with The Outsider, the Loujon books were beautiful labors of love; each one typeset by Gypsy Lou, printed by Jon, and assembled by them both at home.

The exhibition explored the lives and work of Gyspy Lou and Jon Webb through objects from Blair’s Collection as well as paintings by Rockmore (including his widely recognized “Homage to the French Quarter”) and photographs by Johnny Donnels. The display also included copies of each title in Loujon’s small but celebrated catalogue, while illuminating the Webbs’ relationships with other self-proclaimed outsiders—the people, the places and the environment that inspired the creation of Loujon Press.

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