Deanie’s French Quarter Showcases Glass Louisiana Wildlife Sculpture

NEW ORLEANS–Deanie’s Seafood commissioned a custom-designed glass art installation highlighting the bounty of Louisiana’s waters that is a centerpiece of the main dining room of Deanie’s in the French Quarter, 841 Iberville St. The intricate, lifelike sculpture was designed by Bywater artist James Vella and dedicated to Louisiana wetlands champion the America’s WETLAND Foundation.

During a special event last August, Deanie’s Seafood and the Chifici Family celebrated the 5-foot by 4-foot glass sculpture during an event that raised more than $10,000 for the Foundation’s efforts to preserve coastal Louisiana and its delicate wetlands.

The wildlife display features two tall herons standing on a bank surrounded by marsh grass. In the water are small vignettes: A large catfish nestled close to the bank. A school of redfish in the shallows looking for blue crabs. In a deeper section of dark green grass, a school of speckled trout feeding on shrimp. Closer to the sandy bottom are sheephead, flounder and baitfish. (Learn about the creative process here.)

The Deanie’s installation is the largest collective sculpture Vella–who describes himself as a “diehard fisherman who never gets to fish”–has created in his career thus far. The Bywater artist specializes in fine art glass creations, custom designs and large-scale installations.

In a town famous for great seafood, Deanie’s is in a class by itself. It was the first seafood marketplace to open in the quaint fishing village of Bucktown. The original Deanie’s Seafood restaurant, located at 1713 Lake Ave., is a local favorite and part of the fabric of the community. Its second restaurant in the French Quarter opened in 2001. Private dining rooms, a Vieux Carre Courtyard and an expanded kitchen were added to the restaurant during renovations following Hurricane Katrina, and today, the location serves more than 400,000 customers a year.

“This sculpture is a tribute to the local fishing community and the diverse waterways that provide for it,” said Barbara Chifici, who is head of the family business. “We’re pleased to support the America’s WETLAND Foundation’s efforts to restore our wetlands and preserve a way of life.”

Deanie’s will contribute a portion of proceeds from the sales of an original glass fishing lure created by Vella Vetro Art Glass & Custom Designs, Louisiana’s Alure, to the Foundation. Available for purchase for $45, the hand-blown ornament is available for purchase at both Deanie’s Seafood restaurants and online at

Before he started working with glass, Vella was a wildlife painter who entered national competitions and went far in the federal duck stamp competition. His study of wildlife and love of fishing led him to produce smaller vignettes in glass, such as a pelican perched on a stump or individual fish on a log, following the rules of taxidermy. He also designed individual glass redfish, blue crabs, trout and shrimp.

After he was approached to design the display for Deanie’s, Vella decided to create a cross-section of the lake–going from marshy shallows to deeper lake bottom to a sandy section closer to the ocean bottom. This would require developing a base out of plaster that looks like the sand and dirt of the lake bottom and configuring and mounting the individual vignettes into a dynamic, cohesive three-dimensional piece.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had a reason to,” Vella said. “It’s led me into some really interesting techniques that I’ve never gotten to do with glass before.”

The display is located at Deanie’s Seafood restaurant in the French Quarter, 841 Iberville St.


Karen Hales, Deanie’s Seafood

John Hill, America’s WETLAND Foundation

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