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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid