To say a place is off the beaten path is one thing. But when a remarkable attraction doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, you know it’s really under the radar. I’m not sure why it isn’t more well-known though, because the Chauvin Sculpture Garden is an artistic gem. Add in the interesting back story about its eccentric creator and you’ve got a place that’s really worth a visit.
Chauvin is located about 30 minutes south of Houma, nestled among the bayous. As you drive through the residential neighborhood, past the neat homes that line Bayouside Drive, the sculptures suddenly appear: colorful, life-sized figures, rising up from the ground and reaching toward the sky. Pass through the small gate into the garden and you enter a world populated by angels, God, humans, animals and other structures, as seen through the eyes of the artist, Kenny Hill.
Kenny’s story is intriguing and a bit wistful as well. He worked as a bricklayer and, in 1988 rented the property in Chauvin, at first living in a tent and later in a small house he built on the plot. His transition from regular working guy into artist and sculptor seemed to happen suddenly: one day, he just decided to craft a life-sized self-portrait of himself in concrete. From there, he began to interpret stories and visions, from the Bible and from his own life, in concrete. Walk among the statues and you’re surrounded by angels playing trumpets and harps, angels with wings spread, ready to take flight, angels guarding and protecting the people below from the Gates of Hell. There’s an image of Christ on the cross and humans going about their lives, lost souls trying to attain salvation. The focal point of the garden is a 45 foot high lighthouse, covered with figures representing God, angels, soldiers, cowboys, and the artist himself. There are over 100 statues in the garden.
Hill’s influences are evident in his work: the bright colors he used are characteristic of Cajun artwork, as are themes of religion and personal pain and suffering. And those themes come through loud and clear. I felt a sadness walking among the figures, a sense of loss and yearning and the artist’s disillusionment with life.
Kenny Hill was purportedly a reclusive and troubled guy. Local authorities threatened to evict him because he allowed the landscaping to become very overgrown, not to mention the fact that he had filled the plot of land (which he did not own) with sculptures, in the midst of a residential neighborhood.
One day in 2000, after a dispute with his landlord, Hill just left. He was never heard from again.
The site was given to Nicholls State University in nearby Thibodaux and was opened to the public in 2002. If you’re interested in arranging a tour, you can call the university’s Division of Art at 985-448-4597.
Whichever southern Louisiana destinations are on your itinerary, try to add in a detour to Chauvin. The artwork is beautiful, weird, fascinating and emotional — definitely a worthwhile experience.