Little is known about
the reclusive Kenny Hill, a bricklayer by trade, born around 1950. In
1988, he settled on some property on the bayou in Chauvin (pronounced
show-van), Louisianapopulation 3,400. Hill pitched a tent as his
home and, over time, built a small rustic home that demonstrated an interesting
use of space and attention to detail. Then, in 1990, without explanation,
he began transforming his lush bayou environment into a fantastic chronicle
of the world as seen through
Less than a decade later, more than 100 primarily religious concrete sculptures
densely pack the narrow, bayouside property. The sculptures are a profound
mixture of Biblical reference, Cajun colors, and the evident pain and
the artists life. Most figures—black, white, male, female, child, or solider—are guided, supported, or lifted
by seemingly weightless angels. The unique angels, some inviting passage, others prohibiting,
vary from blue skinned, bare-footed,
and sightless to regal celestial figures clad
in medieval garb with the black boots of the local shrimp fishermen.
The most prominent piece is a 45-foot-tall lighthouse, composed of 7,000
bricks, with figures clinging to the outside: cowboys, soldiers, angels,
God and Hill himself. A walk through this sculpture environment is an
emotional experience, evoking a sense of deep spirituality but also personal
Hill placed himself in many of the scenes: he rides a horse; carries Christs
cross; stands with long hair and a beard, his heart bleeding; and shows
his face painted half black and white, suggesting the artists struggle
between good and evil.
During the ten-plus years he lived on the property and created his art,
he was adamant that the work was just for himhe felt no need to
share it. Hill repeatedly denied requests for access to photograph or
publicize his work but reportedly declared it a story of salvation for the local residents.
Neighbors have created a picture of Hill as a man who, by the time he
abandoned his art in early January 2000, was deeply troubled and left
not only his art and his home, but also abandoned the religion that had
come to dominate his life. Evicted by the parish for not keeping the grass
and weeds under control, Hill disappeared on foot, but not before knocking
the head off of the sculpture of Jesus.
The site has been gifted to nearby Nicholls State University in Thibodaux,
Louisiana. When former Art Department Chair, Professor Dennis Siporski,
tried to prompt Hill to
expound on the sites meaning by asking, Is this your vision?
Hill replied, Its about living and life and everything Ive
In 2002 the site was officially opened to the public with the dedication
of the new Nicholls State University Art Studio, a gift of Kohler
Foundation. For information or to arrange a tour of the site, call the
Nicholls State University Art Studio at 985-594-2546 or the Nicholls State University Division of Art at 985-448-4597.