The amazing Louise “Gypsy Lou” Webb passed away Dec 13, 2020 at Greenbrier Nursing Center in Slidell, at the age of 104.
Amid the radical 60s, Gypsy Lou and her husband Jon Webb founded Loujon Press, operating out of their various small French Quarter apartments on Ursulines and Royal.
The couple did not just print books, they hand-pressed literary art objects on massive old presses that took up their entire living space. Pages came in myriad colors, textures, and typesets. Gypsy Lou pressed flowers into the later issues of The Outsider, the couple’s impressive literary journal.
Gypsy Lou and Jon hand-published two of Henry Miller’s books and, in The Outsider, featured poetry from not-yet-famous writers Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Bob Dylan famously wrote the song “Gyspy Lou” about the bohemian publishing icon.
But they are perhaps best remembered for publishing Charles Bukowski’s very first books of poetry, It Catches My Heart In Its Hands (1963) and Crucifix in a Deathhand (1965), both now collectors’ items. His friendship with the Webbs brought Bukowski often to New Orleans.
Financial trouble finally drove the Webbs out of New Orleans. They continued publishing from other locations until Jon passed away in 1971. Bukowski later wrote in one of his Los Angeles Free Press columns about how he’d attempted to tastelessly bed Gypsy Lou at her husband’s funeral.
After Jon’s death, Gypsy Lou moved back to New Orleans and spent a lot of time in Pirate’s Alley in the French Quarter, selling touristy paintings that she did not take seriously, while dressed as a gypsy. “You do a lot of shit when you’re selling paintings,” she told me when she was 97, “you talk funny, you look funny, the whole damn thing.”
Gypsy Lou famously served for 30 years as muse to transplanted New York painter Noel Rockmore, whose etchings graced Crucifix in a Death Hand. The Upperline Restaurant in New Orleans to this day proudly displays Rockmore’s paintings, including Homage to the French Quarter, which depicts Gypsy Lou and friends.
In the early 1980s, Gypsy Lou’s poor health finally forced her out of the Quarter. She moved in with her sister in Slidell, and flickered in and out of public life in New Orleans. She helped work on the book Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press (2007), and aided in the terrific Loujon Press documentary, The Outsiders of New Orleans (2007).
At the New Orleans premier of The Outsiders of New Orleans, a fan stood up during the Q&A and dramatically offered down-and-out Lou a free apartment in the French Quarter. But she demurred, later telling me she preferred Slidell. “I don’t want to live in the French Quarter!” she insisted, “I lived there for 32 years! I’ve had enough of it!”
I had the pleasure of visiting Gyspy Lou at her Slidell retirement community in 2013, when she was 97. She had totally withdrawn from New Orleans’s cultural life, unable to even attend the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Loujon Press exhibit that year. I brought Gypsy Lou food, and my guitar to play her some songs. I also brought all four 50-year-old issues of The Outsider, which a friend of mine had purchased off of Ebay for a lot of money. One issue still contained Gypsy Lou’s pressed flowers. She opened the books and kissed their pages.
Gypsy Lou spent her last several years at Greenbrier Nursing Center in Slidell. She outlived them all.