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John Allen LeBlanc

Below is an article that appeared in the December 2004 edition of the Acadiana Profile Magazine

It is provided with Mr. LeBlanc's permission.  He is the husband of Shirley Thibodeaux LeBlanc, President of the Acadian Memorial Foundation.

John Allen LeBlanc
Feature Story

The Amazing Wooden Replicas
Of John Allen LeBlanc

These scaled-down versions of famous buildings require hundreds of hours of work,
thousands of tiny pieces, and the dedication of an extraordinarily talented artist.

Feature Story
 


The Amazing Wooden Replicas
of John Allen LeBlanc


These scaled-down versions of famous buildings require hundreds
of hours of work, thousands of tiny pieces, and the dedication
of an extraordinarily talented artist.



By Carol Stubbs

     John Allen LeBlanc is a painter, artist, woodworker and historian. He’s a man on a mission to preserve his heritage by meticulously creating handcrafted wooden replicas of historic buildings.

     His work is a labor of love; his profit is the satis-faction of reproducing treasured places for posterity and seeing the joy that they bring to others. All his large pieces are donated to non-profit organizations for display purposes.

Lafayette Courthouse
The old Lafayette Parish Courthouse building
is among the large-scale models made
by John Allen LeBlanc. Hundreds of
hours and lots of skill and patience
are required to complete each work.

     LeBlanc’s latest completed project is a replica of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, which was built in 1728.

     “This is the oldest Catholic church in Louisiana,” he says. “It is one of the oldest buildings in Louisiana that is still here with us.”

     The cathedral is his nineteenth replica. It appraised at $8,100 and has been donated to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

     His replicas are on display throughout Acadiana and in Canada. Completed structures include everything from Acadian-style houses to plantations, churches and museums. These are not tabletop models: The building replicas are of substantial size, with some as much as ten feet long. For all of his replicas he uses a scale of one-half inch to every one foot of the building.
St. Louis Cathedral
John Allen LeBlanc poses with his latest work – the façade of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. He donated the piece to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the Crescent City.

     A resident of Lafayette, LeBlanc estimates it took him approximately 900 hours to complete the replica of the cathedral; other projects have taken as long as 1,400 hours. The proportions, the weathering and colors on the cathedral are accurate, as is the detail, from the filigreed wrought iron spires on the steeples to the plaque on the side of the building commemorating Pope John Paul’s visit in 1987.

     LeBlanc uses pictures he takes of the building, measurements and historical records for accuracy in his replicas. Once he decides he wants to replicate a building, he approaches the organization in charge to explain his purpose and secure permission to proceed.

     “Once I’m there, I measure the doors, the frames and the rafters, and I take lots of pictures. I come home and scale it and draft it on paper, so I know what I’m doing. I have to have a plan,” he explains.
Sans Soucie Bldg
Standing in front of the Sans Souci building
in downtown Lafayette, John Allen LeBlanc displays his model of the historic wooden structure, located next door to Don’s
Seafood & Steakhouse.

     His interest in making historic replicas began on a small scale with birdhouses. He is a painting contractor by trade, and his father was a carpenter. He says he has always been interested in woodworking. In 1996 he began using his woodworking skill to make birdhouses for his wife Shirley to paint and give to her bowling friends. His interest in historical replicas began developing at the same time. On a trip to Philadelphia with his family, he visited the historic Carpenters’ Hall.

     “Right inside was a replica of the building,” he says. “I could have just pulled up a chair and stayed there and looked at it, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
St. Charles Borromeo
John Allen LeBlanc’s replica of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Grand Coteau is identical to the actual building, only smaller.

     Soon after, Lafayette artist Floyd Sonnier called and asked him to replicate his art studio in Scott. The building was once the Old City Bar, built in 1902. Interest in LeBlanc’s work grew by word of mouth, and soon he was creating replicas of Acadian houses.

     He made these replicas for several family associations, including his wife’s family (Thibodeaux) and the LeBlanc family. Encouraged by his wife, who is also interested in genealogy and preserving history, his first church replica was of St. Charles des Mines in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, commonly called the Church at Grand Pré. This church played a significant role in the Acadian Exile of the mid-1700s.

     “I said, ‘You have to do Grand Pré because that ties in with St. Martinville,’” Shirley explains. “It was important because we had been studying Acadian history and backgrounds. It was just important to do that, so he did it, and that was his first church replica.”

     LeBlanc did not only one replica of the Church at Grand Pré, but two. One is displayed at City Hall in St. Martinville, and the other is displayed at the Grand Pré National Historical Site.
Oaklawn Manor
Oaklawn Manor, home of former Gov. Mike and Mrs. Alice Foster, is among the historic buildings replicated by John Allen LeBlanc. Here LeBlanc works on the model in his workshop behind his home in Lafayette as Pete deGravelles looks on.

     “In constructing this replica, I realized that there are Acadian descendants who will never experience or understand the feeling of seeing the Church at Grand Pré,” LeBlanc says. “This is my contribution and my hope – that all Acadian descendants will have the opportunity to view the replica. I hope they leave with an understanding of its importance and realize what the church represents, as it is so very much a part of our Acadian history.”

     LeBlanc uses cedar to recreate many of the details on the buildings, and he recycles all kinds of materials to achieve various effects. Each piece of his replicas is handmade – from rafters to shutters and columns. On the replica of the St. Louis Cathedral, there are 6,600 handmade shingles on the roof, steeples and towers; on another replica, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Grand Coteau, there are 20,000.

Oaklawn Manor 2
The detail in LeBlanc’s models makes it
difficult to distinguish pictures of the
models from the actual buildings.

     When LeBlanc is not making large, complex replicas, he is making smaller Acadian-style houses that he sells at Vermilionville in Lafayette and out of his home. His painting contract work comes first, but he tries to work each day on his replicas.

     “It’s like therapy,” he says. “Some play nine holes of golf; I make houses. It relaxes me.”

     The replicas of the historic buildings, churches and houses are reminders of the unique history of Louisiana, preserved by LeBlanc with tender, loving care for generations to come. 

 

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