by Michael D. Wynne
Historic and cultural preservation comes in many forms, not just the saving of old buildings or putting up historical markers. Some of our greatest cultural and historical preservationists are those people who share their knowledge and wisdom of our history by the creation of their crafts and their teaching of those crafts. One of the greatest people that I know who fall in this category is Nicole Rene Jose Catherine Holcombe. And here is her story:
Nicole was born and raised in historic Brussels, Belgium, the daughter of a prominent accountant and a homemaker. Nicole, with her beautiful French accent, told this columnist several heartfelt stories of her near-idealic youth. “I remember so many stories of my youth: the man on his bicycle who rode around sharpening knives for a living, my dad working on weekends building our home television from a kit, watching American cartoons in French on Saturday mornings …,” fondly recalls Nicole. She enjoyed eating crepes (pancakes) for breakfast and many family friends coming over to play games together in her early years.
After completing Catholic high school and then college in Brussels, Nicole realized that she wanted to become a social worker. “I am a pretty sociable person,” says Nicole, “I always wanted to help people and do good work for others.” She actually did her early social work training in a cigarette factory which she laughs about now. But she was able to save enough money from this job to buy a moped to get around.
Nicole started dancing which she was 15. She found the people who danced to be friendly, but all individually very different. One of the dancers from another group that she met was this young, brash “American guy” who taught folk dancing to earn money. She came to like this very nice guy who would soon become her husband, Dr. David Holcombe (who was featured in one of my columns several years ago). After they married, they moved back to the states to Baltimore to complete his medical residency. In looking for a permanent place to practice, David and Nicole ended up in Alexandria in 1986, partially selected due to the French speakers here. Here they raised 4 successful children, and Nicole noted that she finally learned how to drive at age 30 with the YMCA. They made their home their own unique refuge and it is now a magnet for lovers of art and culture in central Louisiana.
Once, when the Holcombe children were young, Nicole was looking through children’s books to select a book to read and she found a kit for doing “pysanky.” Pysanky is a Ukrainian word meaning “to write,” but in this case it applies to the remarkable and complicated art of highly decorating eggs. Although decorating eggs is a common practice in eastern Europe, Nicole has developed her own unique style that is greatly admired by anyone who sees her work. It is difficult to describe the long process
of painting individual layers of dye on an egg, some taking as long as 4 hours per egg, but it is similar to the batik process of using intersecting wax resistance and dye. Once, when Nicole shared what she did at Our Lady of Prompt Succor school, the whole school wanted to be taught the process and everyone made their own eggs, with generous thanks to Nicole, which she still hears from her many students. “Practice makes better eggs, but it is also so much fun to do!” shares Nicole. Nicole, who has literally taught thousands of people this extraordinary process, still occasionally teaches classes through the Rapides Parish Library system and her incredible artwork has been featured in numerous magazines and exhibits all over the United States.
David and Nicole are still teaching and doing folk dancing mostly during the annual Czech Heritage Festival of Libuse. Both are known as cultural icons in Louisiana based on their own unique ways, and they continue to make important contributions to the CenLa arts scenes. Quite frankly, I cannot imagine central Louisiana without the immense leadership, generosity and talent that Nicole and David Holcombe offer!