Bywater Bed & Breakfast, in addition to being the New Orleans home of Marti Burt and Betty-Carol Sellen, is home to a collection of Louisiana folk and outsider art. This folk art is not the "cute stuff" illustrated in self-conscious country decor. This is self-taught art by the Southern hand, inspired by the passionate, sometimes obsessive, desire of the artist to create something, to record memories and dreams, to recount history, to share religious visions, to document the culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. Some of it is pretty, much of it is more "edgy." These creators did not go to art school; frequently they never thought of themselves as artists until given that label by others. A few of them, though self-taught, were always conscious of making art.
Ivy Billiot, a Houma Indian, carves animals and birds—a nearly full-sized peacock with fanned tail, crazy-looking monkeys eating bananas, and some more realistic carvings of local birds. His late father, Cyril Billiot, is represented in the collection too, by a pride of tigers (if one may borrow a lion-related description) and various birds. Artist Roy Ferdinand drew, with considerable talent, a record of the drugs, violence, and poverty in his neighborhood, which is called "Back o’ Town." Lorraine Gendron of Hahnville, Louisiana works on canvas, does wood cutouts, and makes figures from the Mississippi River clay found on the water side of the levees. Her art records Cajun culture, religious inspirations, and images related to music, particularly Jazz Fest and Preservation Hall. Craig Black too works in clay and his unfired pieces, painted with bright acrylics, are Mardi Gras parade figures. Reggie Mitchell paints local architecture with a quirky perspective that is in accord with how he sees things. May Kugler painted "primitive paintings" of her childhood in southwest Louisiana country and, on the back of each work, wrote the story behind the image.
Other artists included in the collection are David Butler, Clementine Hunter, Donald Mclaws, "Willie Willie," "Artist Chuckie" Williams, "Big Al" Taplett [a little smaller than his twin, "Little Al"], AJ Boudreaux, Herbert Singleton, Charles Hutson, Milton Fletcher, and Royal Robertson - to name just a few.
Betty-Carol has written five reference books about contemporary folk and outsider art and shares information with guests on where to see and buy the art.
The house also displays photographs of New Orleans personalities, including singers (Irma Thomas, Germaine Bazzle, Aaron Neville, Charmaine Neville, Blue Lou Barker, Johnnie Adams), Mardi Gras Indians, and some of local photographer Judy Cooper’s "twins" and "Ladies in Red" series and neighborhood characters.