The Odd Bayou Art of Kenny Hill

 

I recently traveled “down the bayou” with a group of out-of-state travel writers, heading south on La. Hwy. 56 out of Houma, then Montegut. As we made our way toward the Gulf and land became increasingly aqueous, the writers voiced their fears that we were heading toward the ends of the earth.

Chauvin residents may take offense to that remark, but the South Louisiana town lies precariously close to the Gulf’s open water, especially in these times of sea rise. In fact, when we reached our destination of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden, a recent rain had caused minor flooding at the site, plus the nearby bayou inched a little too close for comfort.

Despite pulling on Cajun Reeboks and struggling through mud, the visit proved amazing.

Bricklayer Kenny Hill likely never thought of Climate Change when he created his eclectic sculptures that make up the Chauvin Sculpture Garden. In fact, no one really knows what possessed the reclusive Hill to create the more than 100 primarily religious concrete pieces within this small plot of bayouside land.

Hill arrived in Chauvin in 1988, living in a tent while he built his small home. In 1990, Hill moved to concrete sculptures — angels and other celestial figures, cowboys, images depicting the fight between good and evil and a 45-foot-tall lighthouse made up of 7,000 bricks. A young girl sees her reflection in the concrete below. An eagle takes flight. In many cases Hill placed himself inside the artwork, riding a horse or carrying Christ’s cross with his heart bleeding.

Over time, Hill became disillusioned with his religion. In January 2000, Hill was evicted for not keeping the grass and weeds at bay. He left both his Chauvin home and religion, reportedly knocking off the head of Jesus from a statue.

The Kohler Foundation purchased the property and folk art collection, which has been gifted to Nichols State in Thibodaux. The site is located at 5337 Bayouside Drive and open to the public from dawn to dusk. For more information, call the Nicholls State University Division of Art at (985) 448-4597 or visit nicholls.edu/folkartcenter

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