Kaw-Liga comes to mind, though that's not the name of the Native American man sitting between the two staircases descending to Capitol Lake Drive from the Louisiana State Capitol back parking lot.

Kaw-Liga was the name of the wooden cigar store American Indian in Hank Williams' 1953 classic song. Whereas Williams' Kaw-Liga was made of pine, and, no pun intended, pined after a wooden maiden standing across the street, the capitol's Native American sculpture is alone, with a direct view of Capitol Lake.

native american sculpture 2

The space occupied by Maurice Heullant's Native American sculpture behind the Louisiana State Capitol was designed as a fountain when the capitol opened its doors in 1932. The sculpture was added later, but the exact date is unknown.

Which poses the question: Who is the Native American carved in stone, designed as a fountain behind the Louisiana State Capitol building? And, why is he there? Is he supposed to represent Louisiana's Native American nations or is he a specific personality?

That's the mystery. Most people never notice the Native American figure when entering the capitol. In all fairness, he's easy to miss in his cubby.

He sits cross-legged, flanked by two cranes, seemingly at peace with his back turned to the political wheeling and dealing inside the building behind him.

He's a complete contrast to Loredo Taft's mammoth sculptures, "Pioneers" and "The Patriots" agonizing on either side of the front steps leading to the front entrance.

But Taft didn't sculpt the Native American. Credit for this lone artwork goes to Maurice Heullant. Look closely below the man's right toes jutting out from beneath his left knee, and you'll see Heullant's signature, "M. Heullant."


The Native American sculpture behind the Louisiana State Capitol was created by Maurice Heullant (left) in this file photo. Here, Heullant, along with Louis P. Durand (right) were presented awards for excellence in craftsmanship by Henry L. Wright (center), national president of the American Institute of Architects, in ceremonies at Delmonico's restaurant. Heullant was recognized for his work in wood carving. Durand was cited for his work in sheet metal.

The artist included no date, and information on his sculpture's installation is limited. So questions linger: Who commissioned this piece? When was it installed, and even more importantly, why? 

Elise Grenier, owner of Grenier Conservation in Baton Rouge, helped in this investigation, first referencing Vincent Kubly's 1995 book, "The Louisiana Capitol: Its Art and Architecture." The book takes a thorough look at all of the capitol's artworks and the artists who created them.

Well, almost all.

"There was nothing in there about the Native American sculpture," Grenier said. "And I'm wondering if that back part of the capitol was added later."

So, she contacted architect Perry Sims, senior manager for the Louisiana Office of Facility Planning & Control, who put her in touch with Project Manager Matt Baker, who referenced the original blueprint drawings for the capitol.

native american sculpture 3

Maurice Heullant's signature can be found beneath the left foot of his sculpture of an Native American man sitting cross-legged behind the Louisiana State Capitol. The toes were missing for quite a few years and were restored in recent years.

The staircases and cubby were, indeed, included in the original plans, but the space was empty, serving only as a fountain when the capitol building opened its doors in 1932.

Jacques Berry made the same discovery. He's the policy and communication director for the state Office of Administration, also is researching the sculpture.

"The sculpture wasn't there at first, but it was installed not long after that," he said. "We just can't find much more than that."

Yet there is plenty of information out there on Heullant, who was born in 1883 in Paris and later made his home in New Orleans, where he not only was a sculptor but a noted cabinet maker. He died there in 1981.  

In fact, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's archives includes a photo of Heullant receiving an award for "excellence in craftsmanship" — specifically for wood carving — from the American Institute of Architects. The photo has no specific date, but it appears to have been taken in the 1950s or early ’60s.

native american sculpture 5

A detail shot of Maurice Heullant's Native American sculpture behind the Louisiana State Capitol.

Another bit of information found in the Times-Picayune mentions Heullant working at at Kohlmaier and Kohlmaier Cabinet Makers, where he taught the younger Ruppert Kohlmaier to make furniture. The business still operates in New Orleans.

But there's still no mention of the elusive Native American sculpture.

The Tulane University Archives houses Maurice Heullant's papers in its Louisiana Research Collection, which includes his drawings, designs and blueprints for specific architectural commissions between 1932 and 1966.  

The entry for Heullant states that he was active in New Orleans from 1932 to 1978, meaning that his commission for the sculpture came after the capitol's 1932 opening.

Was the backstairs fountain too much to maintain? Looking upward into the space towering over the sculpture, it's easy to trace the fountain's initial design, where the water trickled downward from the top and collected in the shallow basin below.

That basin now serves as the pedestal for the sculpture's base.

Back to Heullant, the Tulane entry continues, stating that he was "one of five sculptors selected to design the ornamental stone models for New Orleans' Lapeyre Miltenberger Home in connection with the architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth."

A look at Maurice Heullant's American Indian sculpture behind the Louisiana State Capitol. Staff video by Robin Miller

But the entry's details are sketchy when it comes to his work in Baton Rouge, saying only that Heullant "was connected to work on the new State Capitol building in Baton Rouge."

Heullant retired in 1978, and though his personal biography doesn't answer specific questions about the sculpture, a public art walking tour map produced by the Louisiana Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism offers this short description: "Sculptor M. Heullant completed this limestone piece in 1932, an allegorical figure of a seated man representing Louisiana’s Native American tribes. Two crane-like birds frame his head and shoulders."

Yet the original plans show that the sculpture wasn't originally in place in 1932. So, is the description simply an assumption that that this figure represents all of the state's Native American tribes?

native american sculpture 6

Maurice Heullant's Native American sculpture is nestled between the two staircases leading to Capitol Lake Road from the Louisiana State Capitol's back parking lot.

"We've checked everywhere," Berry said. "We called the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, which keeps a record of public art, and they didn't have anything on the sculpture. We checked with The Historic New Orleans Collection, and they had information on Heullant but not the sculpture."

Perhaps, the cross-legged Native American is the only one who knows the answers to this mystery, and like Hank Williams' Kaw-Liga, he isn't talking.   

Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com