Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Sisters Anna Lee Howard and Enid Duhe remember the special religious altar located in their childhood home. It was a handmade wooden structure that stood over 4-feet high, with intricate carvings throughout.

Their grandfather, Louis Duhon (1852-1929) was the artist. He crafted the altar sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s, according to Howard. The ladies believe that the wood came from cigar boxes.

Louis Duhon was not a woodworker by trade. His profession was as a buggy driver. “This (making the altars) was his hobby,” said Duhe. “Both he and his wife were very talented. She was an excellent seamstress.”

Louis and his wife Victoria Donaldson-Duhon had five children, and each of them received one of the coveted alters.

Duhe and Howard are daughters of Jesse Jones and Anna Duhon-Jones, who was one of Louis’ daughters.

“Ours was always called, ‘Mama’s Altar,'” Howard reminisced. “She said she prized it because her father made it. And she wanted to always keep it in the family.”

Enid was the youngest daughter in their family, Howard added, so it was felt that the altar would be passed down to her.

Duhe belongs to a local rosary group, and members are amazed by the work her grandfather put into his labor of love. “They are stunned by this,” she said. “They can’t believe how something like this was made without electric tools, and how long it must have taken to complete.”

At present, two of the five structures are accounted for, and the sisters are looking for the remaining three that were made for the children of Louis and Victoria.

They seem to have left the family circle.

A second altar has been traced back to Dale Garbin of LaPlace. She is the granddaughter of Antonia-Duhon-Weber, another of Louis’ children.

Although there was a strong lead last year on a third altar, Howard couldn’t seem to track it down.

She was told that one of Louis’s grandchildren had donated his father’s altar to the Knights of Columbus organization in Lutcher. Howard tried to find it, but the organization moved from its original building. “It may have been lost in transit,” said Howard.

The three remaining altars that were originally owned by Louis’s children are MIA.

In addition to the gifts to his children, Louis also crafted and donated an altar each year to St. Michael Church in Convent for the annual raffle that took place at their fall festival. “This was his way of giving to the church,” said Howard.

The sisters have no idea of the number of donations or what years they took place.

Eight years ago, Howard began a quest to try to find some of the altars. Her first stop was the St. James Museum in Lutcher. She also passed the word of her task to the local communities.

It was a dead end. “I gave up, I thought it was hopeless,” she lamented.

The two ladies didn’t know exactly how many altars their grandfather made for the church, but they knew they had to be out there somewhere.

About a month ago, they hit paydirt, almost.

One of Howard’s nieces was visiting an elderly gentleman in Norco when she came across a structure that looked exactly like the one that hung on Duhe’s wall in her LaPlace home.

The 92-year-old man was enjoying his altar, and didn’t want to give it up. His mother had won it at one of the St. Michael Church raffles, and he grew up with it located on the wall of his family’s home.

His reluctance to part with it didn’t dampen the sisters’ spirits. In fact, the incident propelled them to look for the others they knew were out there in the world.

Duhe and Howard were very excited when they heard of the discovery. “I decided to start looking again,” laughed Howard.

This is where she currently stands, letting everyone know that the task of uncovering her grandfather’s unique altars is on again.

In addition to the beautiful altar gracing her dining room wall, Duhe also has received something else from her grandfather – an artistic talent. Beautiful paintings she has created can be found on her living room walls near her mother’s rare treasure.

The sisters are staying patient while they continue the search for the missing altars, hoping they may get a lead or two. “I am on a mission,” said Howard.

If anyone has information on the wooden altars, they can call Howard (985)652-5303, or Duhe at (985)652-9074.