Work is being done to repair the Chauvin Sculpture Garden after it was damaged by Hurricane Ida.
Owned by Nicholls State University, the garden was created by self-taught artist Kenny Hill when he moved to Chauvin in 1988.
A bricklayer by trade, Hill fashioned more than 100 concrete statues along Bayou Little Caillou before walking away from his art and his home about a decade later.
Labeled a recluse, Hill has left no trace of his whereabouts, but about 10,000 visitors each year visit the outdoor display of angels, Cajuns, self-portraits and other figures he left behind.
Several statues had fallen and were damaged after the strong Category 4 hurricane blew through Terrebonne on Aug. 29.
Several homes across from the garden at 5337 Bayouside Drive were heavily damaged during the storm and large piles of debris were piled on the edge of the road.
The Sculpture Garden reached out to several art conservation agencies to gather estimates to repair the damage, and volunteers have been picking up what they can, said Gary LaFleur, president of the Friends of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden.
“We had a volunteer workday that allowed volunteers to come with chainsaws and cleaned all the trees and wood debris from around the sculptures,” he said. “With that tree debris removed we can finally cut the grass again. But of course, the grass is not the primary attraction at the sculpture garden. The pieces that were loose have been removed for safe keeping, but some of the structures that fell down are anchored in place. We can cut them loose but we’re not sure if we want to cut them either. We can all imagine a crane or bucket truck help to move something like a tree, but this would have to be done delicately.”
Though the garden sustained damage, much of Hill’s art withstood the hurricane’s wrath, said Raegan Boudreaux, an artist docent at the sculpture garden.
“A few statues fell and many were tilted,” Boudreaux said. “But most of them are OK. It was a good thing Kenny Hill was a brick layer because he knew how to build them. It made them strong.”
Several visitors have made trips to check on the Sculpture Garden in the weeks after Hurricane Ida.
“I love getting to look at the artwork every day and meeting people from all around the world,” Boudreaux said. “We get people from everywhere. One of the visitors was Kenny Hill’s first cousin. He and his wife came out after the hurricane to check on the garden. They said it was sad to see some of the statues go, but at the same time they were relieved that most of them are still up.”
Some of the damaged sculptures revealed the inner materials Hill used to craft his art like bricks, concrete, chicken wire and rebar, artist docent Gabby Pellegrin said.
“He just used whatever that was donated to him,” she said. “We had some bayou preservationists from New Orleans come down a few weeks ago that were hoping to bring the sculptures back to their studio to fix them up, but the way things have fallen down we really don’t know how to remove them. They took a bunch of pictures and are getting recommendations for us. We haven’t been able to really clean because the water pipes are damaged.”
Boudreaux said some of Hill’s sculptures may never look the way they did before the hurricane.
“Everything that we can physically pick up we have brought to the studio to save until everything is more or less back to normal in this neighborhood,” she said as nearby work crews picked up large piles of storm debris. “That way we can try to restore them at some point in time. But everyone’s still kind of struggling right now.”
To help the garden in its restoration efforts, visit the Chauvin Sculpture Garden’s Facebook page.
— Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 448-7639 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.