Heart of Louisiana: Chauvin Sculpture Garden

CHAUVIN, LA (WVUE) - It may be one of the most unusual displays of art that you will find along any roadside in Louisiana. In the small  bayou community of Chauvin, one man's personal showcase of concrete sculptures is now a public park. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to Terrebonne Parish and the Chauvin Sculpture Garden in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

"He didn't like to explain the sculptures," said guide Rocky Mckeon, referring to the artist who created the sculptures. "If you asked him what something meant, he would say 'it's not about what I see, it's about what you see.' He wanted people to make up their own minds about what the sculpture garden meant to them - to interpret the sculptures in their own way."

Mckeon gives guided tours of the odd collection of sculptures alongside Bayou Petit Caillou in the town of Chauvin.

"I was told this is the smallest plot of land with the most sculptures in the United States," he said.

The concrete art is the creation of Kenny Hill, a brick-layer by trade who originally lived here in a tent in the 1980s. Eventually, Hill built a house and then filled the yard with art.

"But I like to lump this in more as outsider art, or naive art from individuals that have had no real formal training in artwork but find it within themselves to produce their own art," said Michael Williamson, with Nicholls State University.

The centerpiece is a 45-foot-tall lighthouse built with 7,000 bricks.

"And whenever he would have bricks or cement or anything left over from a job that he had, he would bring it over here and he would add on to the tower," Mckeon said.

On the outside, three-dimensional figures cover the lighthouse, with scenes that range from historical, to whimsical to spiritual. The artist places himself in many of his sculptures. In one piece, Hill stands with his hand over a bleeding heart and an inscription that reads "is empty."

Hill sometimes places himself in scenes of torment - he's on horseback and he soars above with the help of an eagle. There is a side of darkness - and light - and he follows Jesus carrying his own cross.

Neighbor Keith Peters watched Hill build some of the figures.

"It's like anything else in art - it's whatever the beholder sees in it, then that's what you have to think that's why he built it," Peters said.

In the year 2000, the garden was overgrown with weeds.  The landowner who had allowed Hill to live here died, and Hill was evicted from the property.

"And he just took off walking up the road with just the clothes on his back," Mckeon said. "He left everything behind."

With a grant from the Kohler Foundation, the statues have been preserved and the land donated to Nicholls State University with an adjacent art studio. The garden of statues is now a public park.

"I think it's an amazing work of art," Williams said. "People should come here and be inspired by it or just the all of its uniqueness."

The amazing collection of art wasn't created for profit, it's only one man's personal vision of life - the struggles and triumphs - that can create their own meaning for anyone who visits.

If you visit the Chauvin Sculpture Garden this Sunday, you'll have a perfect spot to picnic and watch the annual blessing of the fleet.

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