Amber Hilbun

Pictured is “Chief Verdun,” an oil painting by local artist Amber Hilbun, a member of the Arts Council of Livingston Parish and the Denham Springs Fine Arts Association. Hilbun’s piece is currently being showcased in the 51st Annual River Road Show, a national juried art competition being held in the Louisiana State Archives Gallery. Sponsored by the Art Guild of Louisiana, the River Road Show runs Aug. 3 - Sept. 30, 2021.

A local artist is being featured in a national art competition.

It just so happened to take a year longer than expected.

Amber Hilbun, of Denham Springs, is one of 70 artists from across the country currently featured in the 51st Annual River Road Show, a national juried art competition being held in the Louisiana State Archives Gallery.

Artists from more than a dozen states are represented in the exhibit. They hail from all corners of the country, including from Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Missouri, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, Virginia, Arkansas, and Illinois.

Sponsored by the Art Guild of Louisiana, the River Road Show opened Aug. 3 and runs through Sept. 30. An awards ceremony will be held Sept. 10.

This year’s juror, nationally acclaimed artist Soon Warren, selected the paintings to be on final exhibit.

And Hilbun, a member of the Arts Council of Livingston Parish and the Denham Springs Fine Arts Association, made the cut, finally showcasing a piece that has been kept in the dark for nearly two years.

Hilbun entered her piece titled “Chief Verdun,” an oil painting depicting a Native American chief garbed in authentic tribal attire. The piece, Hilbun said, was completed in late 2019 for an exhibit scheduled to open later that spring at the Rural Life Museum.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which led to the exhibit’s cancellation.

Hoping to see the piece displayed publicly, Hilbun said she submitted it for the 2020 River Road Show.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, leading to that exhibit’s cancellation, as well.

She resubmitted the piece for exhibit at the Rural Life Museum earlier this year.

And once again, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, cancelling yet another exhibit.

But after putting the final brushstrokes on the beloved piece nearly two years ago, it is on display for all to see.

Finally.

“I was very excited to finally get it in there,” Hilbun said.

The piece is one of the most unique Hilbun said she has ever done. A portrait artist, Hilbun usually focuses her efforts on animals, taking photographs of friends and family members’ pets and turning them into lifelike paintings.

“I occasionally do portraits of people, but I prefer pets,” she joked.

In 2019, Hilbun decided to test her ability and opted to do a human portrait for an upcoming spring exhibit, eventually creating the piece currently on display in the State Archives Gallery in Baton Rouge.

Hilbun said “Chief Verdun” is based on her friend Randy Verdun, a member of the Bayou Lafourche Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Indians who has served as tribal chief for more than 20 years. The two were talking one day when she noticed a photo of Verdun wearing his tribal headdress and asked if she could paint it.

“I also painted an Indian motorcycle for him,” she said with a laugh.

Hilbun said she enjoyed painting “Chief Verdun” because it presented a challenge, mostly because of the “fine detail” it required. The painting took her “several months” to complete as she worked meticulously on the feathers, beads, leathers, and different textures.

“It was different,” she said of the piece. “I always like doing something different and learning something new.”

Hilbun said Verdun “was very flattered” when he saw the finished product, and she added that the piece has turned into one of her favorites.

“I was just glad I was able to share that piece of history,” Hilbun said.

Hilbun’s piece and nearly 70 others are on display at the Louisiana State Archives Gallery, located at 3851 Essen Lane in Baton Rouge. The gallery, which is free and open to the public, is open from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday.

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