News / USA

New Orleans Artisan Turns Tragedy into Beauty

New Orleans resident Stefano Velaska makes jewelery from scraps of metal left by Katrina
New Orleans resident Stefano Velaska makes jewelery from scraps of metal left by Katrina

Multimedia

Greg Flakus

In New Orleans, five years after Hurricane Katrina, there are still many reminders of the storm's destructive power in the form of empty lots where homes once stood and in the form of empty places in the hearts of families who lost loved ones.  But at least one local artisan has found a way to make something positive and even beautiful from the debris left by the storm.

In the covered French Market in the southeast corner of the New Orleans French Quarter, business has picked up since Hurricane Katrina.  But five years later there are about 100 fewer merchants than there were before.

One of the remaining stalwarts is Stefano Velaska, a survivor of both Katrina and of the 1968 invasion of his native Czechoslovakia - by the former Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.

At the age of 18, he fled the communist country and ended up here in southern Louisiana, with its mix of Creole, African-American and French-descended Cajun people.

"I defected from the Czech Republic in 1968, right after the initial invasion," he said.  "In Italy I got asylum and then right after that I came here, so I have been here a long time.  I am almost Cajun!"

Velaska found work in a restaurant, but soon developed a skill in metal working and started making jewelry.

But Hurricane Katrina hit him hard. It took the lives and property of close friends and destroyed much of the market area where he worked.

"It was rough," recalled Velaska.  "It does not matter if it has a small effect on your house or if you lost everything. It does have an effect on everyone."

Among the first to return, Stefano Velaska looked for a way to make something meaningful from the tragedy.

"After the hurricane I was already metal-smithing so I was trying to find out some way to somehow promote New Orleans, because we lost a lot of people. We didn't at that time know even if this place was ever going to come back to life," added Velaska.

He found his inspiration in the scraps of metal left scattered all over the city by the hurricane.  From ugly scraps of metal left by a killer storm, Stefano Velaska makes things of enduring beauty.

Tourists, like Sara from Los Angeles, find something special in these small works of art.

SARA: "I think it is one of the most beautiful things you can do and I come from a family of jewelers so I appreciate something like this, so beautiful and unique."

VELASKA: "I want to be able to give to someone who comes to New Orleans something they can take home that is a piece of New Orleans instead of trinkets made in China or some other countries, because this way you actually take home something from here. It is a small piece of New Orleans, a small piece of history."

It is, perhaps, one man's way of turning tragedy into triumph.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid