Amazing Wooden Replicas
of John Allen LeBlanc
These scaled-down versions of famous buildings require
of hours of work, thousands of tiny pieces, and the
of an extraordinarily talented artist.
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 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.
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.
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.’”
LeBlanc’s replica of St. Charles Borromeo Church in
Grand Coteau is identical to the actual building, only
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.
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.
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.