While summer “vacation” for many people means heading to the beach or some far-off place, summer camp and other obligations can make getting away more challenging than we would like. Yet, in our own backyard – well, maybe our back bayou – going about an hour out of New Orleans to Chauvin, Louisiana (pronounced show-van) can take us to an artist’s fantasy world as well as a place where we can explore our role in the delicate ecosystem of South Louisiana.
Although it’s smaller than it seems from the photos, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden was the project of eccentric local Kenny Hill, who lived on a small plot of land in Chauvin, and from about 1990 to 2000 constructed a whimsical garden of concrete sculptures. Most of the over 100 are human figures that carry some sort of Biblical or historical reference. Mostly, the figures reflect struggle, perhaps alluding to the many struggles the artist himself faced throughout his life.
For a child, however, the densely packed space is a larger-than-life representation of color, fancy and the human form. For younger children, the smaller space is actually a benefit. It doesn’t overwhelm even as the 50-foot lighthouse inspires awe. For older kids and adults, the daily tours (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and museum on site provide insight into the troubled man and his fantastic creations. The green space next door houses Nicholls art students’ large-scale sculptures and provides a space to picnic. The site was gifted to Nicholls State University and opened to the public in 2002 and, of late, it receives both local and international tourists that are seeking folk art, bayou vistas or just an interesting story about a local, troubled man who abandoned the project in 2000, lopping off the head of one of his Jesus figures as he left the property on foot.
Visitors departing the garden (perhaps less dramatically than Hill) can go further down the bayou where they’ll find Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). While the facility focuses on research into the unique environment that is our coastline, the facility also has self-guided tours every day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) where kids can see the animals in their aquaria and experience some of the exhibits, ending it all with a climb up their observation tower where they can get a bird’s-eye view of the marsh and see first-hand the importance of our coastline and just how much of it is disappearing at a rapid pace.
A visit down the bayou wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the 100-year-old Cecil Lapeyrouse Grocery store. Whether you’re stopping to grab some water for your fishing trip or just want to enjoy a Coke on their porch swing next to the bayou, this spot currently owned by the third-generation of Lapeyrouses is, without a doubt, an experience far removed from your typical run to Rouses’s to grab a gallon of milk. People popping in to say hello to the incredibly kind owners find themselves staying longer than they expected and the space itself is almost a museum to the types of small grocery stores we had growing up but that are few and far between now.
Top off the day by buying some fresh fish or shrimp caught nearby (Tip: Bring a cooler!), and you have a nice dinner when you get back to New Orleans to remind you of just how close we are to a place that seems so different from our city but that is, nonetheless, so important.
Just the Facts …
Chauvin Sculpture Garden
5337 Bayouside Drive
Chauvin, LA 70344
Monday–Sunday (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) with tours of the art studio 11- 4 p.m. and by appointment
8124 Highway 56
Chauvin, LA 70344
Self-Guided tours 8 a.m.-4 p.m. everyday
7243 Shoreline Drive
Chauvin, LA 70344
Open daily 5:30 a.m.-7 p.m.