Eyeless Kenny with a bleeding heart stands at the entrance to his sculpture garden.
Eyeless Kenny with a bleeding heart stands at the entrance to his sculpture garden.

Kenny Hill's Sculpture Garden

Field review by the editors.

Chauvin, Louisiana

One of America's most enigmatic art environments sits on a small plot of land in an obscure corner of south Louisiana. It was built by an equally obscure artist, Kenny Hill, a down-on-his-luck bricklayer who lived on what was then a vacant lot in the late 1980s. By the time he literally walked away at the turn of the millennium, Kenny had packed the property with cryptic swirls and symbols, and around 100 colorful concrete sculptures, including a platoon of angels and at least seven different versions of himself.

Hand-built lighthouse covered in sculptures, including the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
Hand-built lighthouse covered in sculptures, including the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

"He was told to build the Garden for others to learn from his sins; he told me that," said Dennis Sipiorski, an art professor at Southeastern University, who spoke with Kenny a week before he vanished. "He wouldn't say who told him to build it. He wouldn't let me record him. He wouldn't let me take his picture."

"Kenny didn't communicate by talking," said Gary LaFleur, a Nicholls State University professor and president of the group that maintains the Garden. "He communicated by making the sculptures."

What exactly Kenny was communicating has puzzled everyone since the Garden was restored and opened to the public in 2002. The first thing that visitors see is a statue of Kenny without eyes, clutching his shirt over his heart, with blood pouring from beneath his hand. "Heart of Fact" is inscribed into a concrete slab near the statue. Dennis and Gary believe that "Heart of Fact" -- perhaps a play on the word artifact -- is what Kenny called the Garden, or would have called it had he stuck around long enough to tell anyone.

Kenny with a half-black face is supported by angels.
Kenny with a half-black face is supported by angels.

Some of the angels have blue skin. Some have black holes for eyes. Some have flames atop their heads. Some have halos made of circular light bulbs. In one part of the Garden a group of black-painted people trudge toward a group of full-color people being grabbed by more angels. Many of the statues have their arms extended, pointing somewhere or at something that Kenny wanted visitors to see. "It's how you get Salvation; Kenny leads you there," said Dennis. "He wasn't trying to make it mysterious," said Gary. "It was just out of his wheelhouse to explain that kind of stuff."

Several sculpted versions of Kenny wear ripped jeans and a belt buckle decorated with nine ambiguous discs. The discs reappear throughout the Garden, including on the robes of several of the angels. Some people think that the discs represent crop circles, or perhaps the Pleiades star cluster, or possibly a stylized map of the Garden itself, although that still wouldn't explain what the pattern means. Dennis recalled that Kenny built the Garden in the lead-up to Y2K. "The world was gonna end where the circles all align and we were all gonna get thrown off the planet," Dennis said. But he added that this was just his conjecture, and no better than any other guess at what Kenny was trying to convey.

Shirtless Kenny needs a good meal. On his belt buckle: the mysterious nine discs.
Shirtless Kenny needs a good meal. On his belt buckle: the mysterious nine discs.

Jesus waves to Kenny, who can't carry his own cross.
Jesus waves to Kenny, who can't carry his own cross.

At the back of the Garden stands a 45-foot-high lighthouse, built of 7,000 bricks that the artist somehow scrounged from various worksites. Winding around and up its exterior are a series of gravity-defying sculptures: cowboys and Indians; God with luxuriant hair; a nude guy with a knife fighting an angel; a World War I German biplane; a New Orleans jazz band; a sailing ship; a horse with "KH" branded on its rump; the flag-raising on Iwo Jima; and Kenny, his face painted half-black, being hauled skyward by more angels. Flanking the lighthouse are a pair of pillars, each topped with another Kenny, ready to be carried aloft by eagles.

Kenny never completed the Garden. Two angels lie prone atop the entry arch, unpainted and unfinished, the rebar for their wings sticking out of their backs like spears of damnation. "He quit working and paying his rent; he quit cutting the grass; he stopped building; he just shut down completely as a human being," said Dennis, describing what he'd found when he met Kenny in January 2000. "He said he was done; he was no longer required to keep building. And after they evicted him he sat out front for two nights and slept in a chair. And then he just walked away."

Several members of Kenny's extended family have visited the Garden since his departure and approved of its preservation and continued access to the public. There's been conflicting gossip that Kenny put a curse on the property and that God protects the site. Dennis consulted a voodoo priestess who assured him that there is no curse, and the Garden's remarkable survival -- despite decades of hurricanes and Louisiana bayou heat -- does suggest some divine intervention. Both Gary and Dennis believe that Kenny is still alive, although no one at the Garden has seen him since he left. Where he is now and what he is doing remain a mystery.

Kenny Hill's Sculpture Garden.
A little girl ponders her reflection in the Garden's concrete bayou.

"We always wanted Kenny to come back. I'd love to be there and have him just show up," said Dennis. "But I still think he wouldn't say anything."

Kenny Hill's Sculpture Garden

Chauvin Sculpture Garden

Address:
5337 Bayouside Drive, Chauvin, LA
Directions:
Chauvin Sculpture Garden. US-90 exit 202 (Houma). Drive south on LA-24/Main St. When LA-24 veers left, keep heading southeast on LA-56 toward Chauvin. At the stoplight in Sarah Bridge (Chevron station) turn left onto LA-58, cross the Bayou Petit Caillou bridge, then turn right at the first street onto Bayouside Drive. Drive 1.5 miles. The sculpture garden will be on the right; the visitor center and parking lot on the left.
Hours:
Self-guided visits daily, dawn-dusk. Guided tours by appt. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
985-594-2546
RA Rates:
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