First published: Winter 2005
Lush, semi-tropical vegetation growing rampant alongside a bayou called Petit Calliou in Chauvin, Louisiana, just 60 miles South South-West of New Orleans, was rapidly threatening a landscape of sculptures created by a local bricklayer and self-taught visionary artist, Kenny Hill. In a short time, the life-size cement figures would have disappeared beneath the undergrowth, like the temple sculptures surrounding Angkor Watt. But the discovery of the site by Dennis Siporski, then professor of Art at the nearby Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, led to the initiation of a rescue plan. Siporski contacted Terri Yoho, Executive Director of the Kohler Foundation in Wisconsin who organised the restoration and Nicholls University committed to a maintenance programme. As a result, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden – which was constructed by Hill over a 13-year period and which represents the artist’s highly individual spiritual vision – lives on.
In its present state, the garden still retains some of the original rose bushes and banana trees planted by Hill. It is a lush and tranquil place, but carries an undercurrent of melancholy, a skein of tension created by the profusion of sculptured self-portraits of Hill, who appears throughout the site as a humble witness to the retinue of angels. One polychrome cement figure portrays him on horseback, another represents the bearded artist quizzically listening to a sea shell he holds to one ear, in others he is suffering or afflicted.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #53