NEW ROCHELLE - When Sophie Sejourne was living across the Atlantic Ocean in La Rochelle, France, she always felt a connection with the Queen City of the Sound.
"It's been my dream to see this city," Sejourne said recently while setting up her artwork in the City Hall lobby. "I love this place. Everybody is so nice. I like it because it is very mixed population, very diverse."
New Rochelle's waterfront reminds Sejourne a bit of her homeland, a seaport city in western France on the Bay of Biscay. There are also those deep historical ties that connect the two cities.
It's the same as La Rochelle, you have the same ambiance," she said.
Sejourne is a featured artist in a cultural exchange between New Rochelle and La Rochelle. The exhibit is called "Sister Cities." It opens today at City Hall's rotunda and runs through March 31. A reception is to be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall.
Sejourne began her career in La Rochelle and studied at l'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Poitiers, France, and later at the Art Students League in New York City, the famed art school where the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichtenstein and Norman Rockwell developed their skills.
The league also has Sejourne's work in its private collection. She now lives in Brooklyn and has a studio in Tribeca.
As part of this show, Sejourne has 19 paintings, 14-by-14-inch canvasses complete with pictures and post cards of the two cities that she created especially for the exhibit.
It is the outgrowth of the city's "La Rochelle Sister City Initiative," a committee of New Rochelle residents set up to develop cultural exchanges between the communities.
The two cities have a long history together. In the 17th century, French Protestants, known as Huguenots, left France because of religious persecution and many ended up in New York. In 1688, they bought thousands of acres and founded "Nouvelle-Rochelle."
A relationship continued throughout the years, but that diminished after World War II.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, however, cultural exchanges were revitalized and heightened during the 300th anniversary of New Rochelle.
In recent years, there has been a musician-exchange program and an annual sailing race, the Mayor's La Rochelle Cup, on Long Island Sound, said Peter Korn, a member of the committee.
"This is not just a sister city association. This is an association with our founding city. For us, it's historic," Korn said. "This sister city helps link people at a community level and gives more meaning to the term 'international relations.' "
Programs such as this strengthen New Rochelle's reputation as a community that values the arts and culture, Mayor Noam Bramson said.
"Our connection to La Rochelle is as old as the community itself," Bramson said Friday. "Celebrating our history and heritage contributes to the cultural vitality of our present and future."
Reach Gerald McKinstry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-696-8285.