Nicholls’ Chauvin Sculpture Garden Received Grant to Be Restored

It was recently announced via this new release from Nicholls State University that the Nicholls Foundation was a recipient of $75,000 from Ruth Arts and the Ruth DeYoung Kohler Legacy Fund in order to repair the Chauvin Sculpture Garden.

The Chauvin Sculpture Garden is one of Nicholls State University’s most timeless landmarks, but in August 2021, it sustained damages from Hurricane Ida’s 150 miles per hour winds. And thanks to the RDK Legacy Fund, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden will soon be repaired and back to its original glory.

Dr. Gary LaFleur is the Director of the Center for Bayou Studies and an R.E. Miller Endowed Professor of Honors Studies, and when speaking about the support from Ruth Arts, he said: “We are delighted to receive support from Ruth Arts with their generous and substantial donation. We plan to use the funds in ongoing efforts to repair and restore the garden to its original state before it suffered damage due to Hurricane Ida. The funds will also be used for our continuous commitment to keep the garden open for visitors with alternating exhibits on display every weekend and of course our annual Chauvin Folk Art Festival in April.”

This past fall, the Nicholls Studio Gallery at the Chauvin Sculpture Garden had featured an exhibit of Nicholls State University Spring 2021 Graduates. The Show was hosted by the Friends of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden, and it served as a shining example of how the space lends itself to commemoration, academic showcase, and communal gatherings at Nicholls.  Located on Bayou Petit Caillou in South Louisiana, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden is a “world-class art environment created by outsider artist Kenny Hill.” The garden is “always free and open to the public: daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

When speaking about how the Chauvin Sculpture Garden aims to preserve the legacy of Kenny Hill, Dr. LaFleur said, “This generous donation is a fervent reminder that Nicholls has an international reputation for helping rescue, restore, and maintain the world-renown visionary art of Kenny Hill that can be viewed at the Chauvin Sculpture Garden. The Chauvin Sculpture Garden has helped to put Nicholls on the map within Louisiana, across the nation, and across the globe as a university that is committed to conservation and interpretation of visionary folk art.”

In its earliest form, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden was originally owned by Kenny Hill when he began to transform the bayou environment of his home into a garden that housed over 100 concrete sculptures. The most prominent piece among these was a 45-foot-tall lighthouse sculpture that was composed of 7,000 bricks in total. Prolific as he was, Hill never publicized his work, and he eventually abandoned it in the early 2000s, before the site was gifted to Nicholls. Beginning in 2002, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden has been owned by Nicholls State University, open to the public, and home to the Nicholls State University Art Studio, which was gifted by the Kohler Foundation.

As per Nicholls State University, “The mission of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden and Nicholls Art Studio is to educate the public on the value of Folk Art and its importance in the world of visual arts. The studio and site preserve and protect the creative works of Kenny Hill and display the work of contemporary artists in the 1,000 square foot exhibition space.”

The grant given to the Nicholls Foundation comes from Ruth Arts, a “new grantmaker based in the Midwest dedicated to meeting the evolving needs and lived experiences of artists, communities and arts organizations whose work is anchored by visual arts, performing arts and arts education.” Ruth Arts had announced the Ruth DeYoung Kohler Legacy fund, a grant that was designed to mirror the support that Ruth DeYoung Kohler (1941-2020) had made to arts institutions throughout her lifetime.

Karen Patterson, the Executive Director of Ruth Arts, commented on the fund by saying, “these programs are at once forward-facing and anchored in Ruth DeYoung Kohler II’s inimitable legacy. “We’re proud to honor Ruth’s lifelong commitment to the arts by continuing to fund the organizations she personally supported and to develop new programs in her spirit of experimentation and community-building.”

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Chauvin Sculpture Garden: Damaged by Ida with Plans to be Restored

Storm damage left in the wake of Hurricane Ida is set to be repaired and reversed by supporters of Nicholls State University’s Chauvin Sculpture Garden, according to an article from Houma Today.

When Hurricane Ida historically made landfall and damaged a significant portion of Southeastern Louisiana in late August, one of Terrebonne Parish’s most recognizable and unique landmarks was significantly damaged. Owned by Nicholls State University and located at 5337 Bayouside Drive, the Chauvin Sculpture Garden receives approximately 10,000 visitors each and every year. Despite receiving damage from the state’s previous storms, several of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden’s pieces had sustained significant damage from falling trees from Hurricane Ida.

As soon as pictures, reports, and eyewitness accounts were made public via Facebook, supporters of the garden came out in droves not just with well wishes but also donations and offerings to help bring the garden and its pieces back to their former glory. One of the pieces receiving significant damage was the “Flowered Path,” a personal favorite of the garden’s sculptor, Kenny Hill.

A self-taught artist, Hill was first a brick-layer by trade before he moved to Chauvin in 1988 and created the garden with over 100 concrete statues that rest along Bayou Little Caillou. In the garden lie many beloved portrayals of Cajuns, angels, self-portraits, and other impressive figures, though as described by the president of the Friends of the Chauvin Sculpture Garden, Dr. Gary LaFleur, many sustained massive damages.

LaFleur reported to Houma Today, “It has gotten some damage from hurricanes before like Katrina and Gustav, but nothing of this magnitude. The winds in Chauvin were pretty high, maybe as high as 150 mph. A lot of trees came down. One tree branch came down on part of the “Flowered Path,” where the artist Kenny Hill was able to make angels look like they’re flying in the air. But they weren’t made to have a big branch on them. One of those angels is carrying a baby, and somehow the baby fell out of the angel’s arms and got caught up in the branches but did not hit the ground. We caught the baby and stored it away so the baby is OK, but most of the angels took some damage.”

LaFleur continued to explain that though it’s a bit early to restore the garden, due to the substantial damages to the surrounding area, the wheels are already in motion. In fact, as soon as the story of the garden’s damages was spread across social media channels, organizers began to organize together with a goal of restoring the garden so as to bring a symbolic gesture of faith and hope to a community similarly weakened by the storm.

Jonathan Foret is the Executive Director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center in Houma, and upon seeing Ida’s impact on the garden, he reported to Houma Today that he was particularly pained by it.

Foret expressed, “it may seem odd, but of all the things I didn’t want to see this broken the most. Not to make insignificant all the people that lost their possessions and homes. I know that is most important. I’m not sure why, but maybe I do. It’s an important symbol of Chauvin … and Terrebonne Parish. I want to be a part of putting this back together. It’s symbolic … and I hope it can help us all heal.”

If you’d like to track the restoration efforts of bringing the Chauvin Sculpture Garden back to its full, former spectacle and glory, it’s suggested that you visit the Garden’s Facebook Page. In addition to this restoration effort, if you’d like to also assist struggling residents in the Houma area who were affected by the storm, please visit the New York Times’ linked resources.

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