Like the Times-Picayune obituary described (and the video further below documents him accounting first-hand), he had a significant spiritual experience years ago when he had coffee at the Café du Monde in the French Quarter with a man who looked like, and who Bill believed was, Jesus. His simple explanation for coming late in life to creating his unique and often very spiritual art was
“One day when I let God out of the box I built, he danced with me.”(Endure a sporadic 15 second commercial at the link below and watch the WWL news profile of Bill from a while back: http://www.wwltv.com/video/?z=y&nvid=371820&shu=1)
My wife and mother-in-law found his gallery in Ponchatoula several Strawberry Festivals ago and with her near-impeccable artistic instincts she (my wife, not mother-in-law) insisted we buy what eventually became our own mini-Hemmerling gallery. This being his pre-Jazz Fest poster period, we could both afford them and get a few of his more early, unique pieces, one of which we bought at a festival in Lafayette. That was a hot, swampy day, and I was in my Greg Allman phase but a few years later when the Ogden Museum feted Bill in honor of his aforementioned poster and I stopped by right after work and recently shorn, I waited in line and when I talked to him briefly I described the piece we had bought in Lafayette and he looked at my coat, tie, and buzzcut and said “yes, I remember - you weren’t dressed up and you had longer hair”.
We’re just two among many Hemmerling fans and he was like that with everyone he met, but that’s the special memory of him that came to mind when I learned he was finally at peace and having that second cup of coffee with Jesus...