James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke
Nowadays, James Lee Burke sightings are rare in New Iberia, the Acadiana city that the prolific and popular author and his famous fictional character, flawed detective Dave Robicheaux, put on the literary map.
That may change someday, if local Burke enthusiasts can raise needed funds to erect a life-size sculpture of Burke, who spent summers in Iberia Parish as a boy, later lived on Bayou Teche and set many of his 40 novels in the parish. Burke now lives in Montana.
The statue is planned for near Bouligny Plaza, facing Main Street and Victor’s Cafeteria in downtown New Iberia. Shirley Scarpetta, a Houston-area artist, will create the piece.
“We’ll have him looking forward, wearing jeans, boots, a cowboy hat and flannel shirt,” said local artist Paul Schexnayder, who is chairing the effort to raise $125,000 for the statue and for the costs of the surrounding landscape to complement it.
Schexnayder said the effort to collect the funds and build the statue was launched about a year ago. It developed because of the city’s affection for Burke, who has connections to the annual literary festival in New Iberia and whose many books lure streams of tourists to visit Iberia Parish.
Schexnayder said although the statue idea is not new, this effort seems to have created more interest from the author, now 84, who, outside of promoting his books, is a “humble” man who avoids publicity.
A kiosk may be moved to the intended area for the statue and a countdown may begin on the fund drive. The effort has raised about $30,000 so far, and Schexnayder said a renewed fundraiser may help.
Schexnayder said other Southern authors have statues erected in their honor in their hometowns and fans love to have their photos taken by them. An appropriate statue would provide another stop for tourists to New Iberia, who already scour the landscape for sightings of where Burke’s fictional characters have roamed.
Scarpetta said it would take about four to six months to create the statue after funds are raised. She said she has had discussions with the committee but has not begun planning the statue.
“Paul wants to wait until the funds are there,” she said. What she creates, she said, will depend upon what the committee wants — perhaps Burke with his signature hat, maybe holding a book.
Scarpetta began sculpting in 2007. She made her first large piece of public art about 10 years ago and went full time in her work about five years ago. She works in Tomball, a city of about 12,000 people outside of Houston.
She said she has done some research on Burke and his body of work in preparation for sculpting Burke’s image.
A committee seeking funding for the Burke sculpture is accepting donations. For information, email paul@schex.com.
Email Ken Stickney at kstickney@theadvocate.com.
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