SHOWCASING LOUISIANA: Chauvin Sculpture Garden captivates with mystery and intrigue
Manufacturing company and state university preserve unique art installation
CHAUVIN, LA (WAFB) - A sculpture garden of over 100 life-size sculptures sits on one side of Bayou Petit Caillou in the small coastal community of Chauvin, La.
Chauvin is about a two-hour drive south of Baton Rouge. The sculpture garden was built by the hands of Kenny Hill.
Not much is truly known about Kenny Hill.
Neighbors, like Debra Cunningham, describe Kenny as, “a down to earth quiet guy. He just wanted the simple things in life.”
What is known is that Kenny Hill was a bricklayer by trade. He moved to Chauvin around 1990 and rented the empty plot of land where the sculpture garden now exists.
At the time, there wasn’t anything on the property so neighbors say he pitched a tent and lived that way while building a small brick home.
After the home was completed Kenny started building concrete and brick sculptures. For the next 10 years, Kenny would build over 100 life size sculptures on the narrow property.
Around 2000, Kenny left and never returned. He had been evicted from the property for not taking care of overgrown grass and weeds.
The landowner also wished to sell the property but Kenny didn’t have the money to buy it.
Dennis Sipiorski is a professor of art at Southeastern University and is credited with saving and eventually preserving the site.
“This man is more than just a bricklayer. There is something else here that I don’t understand,” Sipiorski said.
Sipiorski did in fact meet Kenny only a few weeks before vanishing. According to Sipiorski, Kenny wouldn’t go into detail on what any of the sculptures meant. Only that it was, “up to the person viewing it to come up with a meaning.”
Once Kenny left, the family that owned the property didn’t know what to do with all the statues. Sipiorski convinced the family to give him three weeks to find a buyer for the property so that the sculpture garden could be preserved.
Sipiorski spoke with the Kohler Foundation about coming down from Wisconsin to view the site in hopes they would purchase and save the sculptures.
The Kohler Foundation is credited with buying and preserving numerous folk art sites across Wisconsin. But at the time they had never looked outside the state of Wisconsin.
Kohler, yes the company probably responsible for your sink and toilet, eventually sent a representative and purchased the lot with the sculpture garden, the lot adjacent, and the lot across the street.
Kohler fixed up the land and cleaned the sculptures. They built a welcome center across the street and created an open-air area next door for events to be held. Then the foundation gifted the site to Nicholls State University.
Dr. Gary LaFleur is the Chairman of the Friends of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden. He is also a professor at Nicholls State. “This garden is a living garden. The sculptures are alive and there’s something like a living story to tell,” LaFleur told WAFB.
The garden is now used as a teaching tool for area K-12 schools and for Nicholls State art department students.
But as mentioned earlier, Kenny did not leave any explanation for the art. Recently the sculpture garden was named the 12th best folk art display in the entire world.
Kenny Hill was an untrained artist. He never made a penny on his artwork. Sipiorski asked Kenny why he never sold any of the pieces to help pay for his expenses.
“I said ‘did you ever think of building some pieces and selling them to people to raise money to help cover your costs’. He said ‘if I build a piece of artwork and sell it I lose my ability to create.’ And I went no artist I know has that much integrity. No one in the art world would go, ‘oh these aren’t for sale because I’d lose my ability to create if I sold it to you’. I’ve never heard anyone say that other than him.”
There are many rumors about Kenny Hill. It is unknown if he is still alive, although Sipiorski and LaFleur say there is no reason to suspect he is dead.
Rumor has it he spent part of his childhood in Springfield, Louisiana in Livingston Parish. It is also rumored he has children living in Baton Rouge.
Needless to say, there is a lot of mystery surrounding this awe-inspiring sculpture garden masterpiece tucked away in the middle of nowhere bayou country.
But you should definitely go and experience it for yourself.
A perfect chance is Sunday, April 7th beginning at 10 a.m.
The sculpture garden will play host to the Chauvin Folk Art Festival and you’ll also be able to catch the blessing of the fleet as shrimp boats move up and down the Bayou on the backside of the property.
If you cannot make it to the folk art festival, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden is open every day between sunrise and sunset.
Tours of the garden are given Saturdays and Sundays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The sculpture garden is located at 5337 Bayouside Dr, Chauvin, LA 70344.
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