Friends of Eric Bienvenu
Eric Bienvenu — In Memoriam
— by Sue and Dan Cecchini, Jr.
The falconry community has produced an im-
pressive lumber of artists. Among one of the n-
est sculptures of raptors was Eric Bienvenu of
Louisiana. Sadly Eric passed away on November
15, 1989, and we will miss him very much.
Eric was bom in 1947 in Houma, Louisiana. He
spent much of his youth in the out of doors in
southern Louisiana.
Dan rst met Eric at the 1978 NAFA Meet in
Alamosa, Colorado, where he was displaying
some of his beautiful miniature porcelain sculp-
tures of raptors. Dan was so struck by the beauty
and detail of the pieces that he ordered a lovely
little female merlin sculpture on the spot for $90
(even though he was only making $400/month as
a graduate student in Montana at the time). He
just had to have it! We were simply in awe of Eric’s
enormous talent and feel fortunate to have col-
lected some of his pieces. We feel enriched when
we can study the beauty and detail of Eric’s work;
we feel happy to have known him. Eric was do-
ing miniature wood carvings of raptors in the early
70s and switched to porcelain in 1975.
We had the opportunity to visit Eric’s studio in New
Orleans in 1983. The pieces which he had done in
wax, but never got around to casting were incred-
ible His talents and interests went beyond raptors,
but birds of prey seemed to hold a very special
place to Eric. To us Eric appeared to be a rather
shy person, but he was kind and generous; we
could always count on Eric to gladly donate one
of his exquisite pieces to the NAFA Meet Rafes
each year. He was a strong supporter of NAFA in
his own quiet way.
Eric seemed to love miniature things. His pieces
were mostly scaled down replicas of falconry rap-
tors, although he did do a beautiful full sized white
gyrfalcon and a jack merlin. This predilection for
petite things followed through to the types of rap-
tors which he ew, Eric en joyed ying merlins and
sharp-shinned hawks. We vividly remember the
ne little tiercel sharpy which Eric was ying at the
‘84 NAFA Meet in Lamar, Colorado. He was ying
it at the sparrows in the bushes around the hotel
in which he was staying. It was the only ‘musket’
which we have ever seen at a NAFA Meet.
Well miss not being able to talk with Eric on the
phone or in person anymore The American falcon-
ry communi ty has lost a ne member. We hope
those of you who never had the fortune to meet
Eric will come to know a little of Eric through the
following photos; although, photos have never
been able to capture the delicate beauty of Eric’s
work.On the day Eric died he wrote a note to his
friends. Eric’s mother sent us a copy of Eric’s last
letter. Eric’s mother also said, “If you ever hear
the song, The Wind Beneath My Wings’ by Gary
Morris, think of Eric. It ts him perfectly.” The fol-
lowing is from Eric’s letter. “...Do not mourn my
passing, but rejoice in all of the positive experi-
ences that we have shared with each other. Peace
& love, Eric”.
NAFA Journal, 1990
North American Falconers' Association
The Art of Eric Bienvenu
by Tom and Jennifer Coulson
The falconry community is small, such
that the death of one member is pro-
foundly felt. In Eric Bievenue's passing,
American falconry lost both a falconer
and an outstanding falconry artist. The
porcelain miniature hawks and falcons
we own of Eric's are treasured posses-
sions. We wrote this article at the
request of many falconers who inquired
about his artwork. R e gretfu lly, we
lacked the foresight to make this tribute
while he lived.
Tom firs t met Eric at the 1970
NAFA Field Meet in Yankton, South
Dakota. Upon seeing Eric's last name
across his army jacket, Tom commented
that there was a bayou by that name near
his house. Eric said, "Yes, I know. I'm
from Houma, Louisiana". In those
years Tom was amazed to find another
falconer from southeastern Louisiana.
This chance encounter led to a great
meet and the start of a long friendship.
Tom was invited to hunt with Eric and
his friends; one of them Alan Beske, is
a very dedicated game hawker and
friend to this day. After the meet Eric
returned to his post in the army and
they lost touch.
Several years later, when Eric
moved back to Louisiana he called Tom
about legalizing falconry in the state.
And there ensued countless, endless
hours talking about and trying to figure
out how to trap migrant merlins. In the
winter of 1975 Tom was flying a prairie
falcon (at a spot that is now fondly
referred to as "the merlin field") when
his falcon was buzzed by a merlin. Until
that time, neither had known that mer-
lins wintered in New Orleans. The rest
of the winter was spent trying to trap
that merlin. Eric kept a vigilance from
dawn till dark at the merlin field for
days on end. They went to such
1994 NAFA Journal
North American Falconers' Association
extremes as to cut the middle out of the
merlin's favorite oak tree to insert a
small net. The merlin got caught several
times in this contraption but the trap-
pers could never retrieve it before it
broke loose. Tom had the honor of
trapping Eric's first merlin.
As far as we know, Eric and Tom
were the first to trap merlins on the
Louisiana coast. The coast served as a
sort of funnel point for the fall migra-
tion, concentrating the merlins. Their
most common way to trap along the
coast was to set up dho-gazzas baited
with pigeons. Eric was a rugged, deter-
mined individual and never one to give
up. No one could outstay him in a
hawk-trapping blind. He manned those
dho-gazza blinds as if it were a matter
of life and death. As both a falconer
and an artist, he held a life-long fascina-
tion for merlins.
Eric was the first falconer to find a
Cooper's nest in Louisiana. The nest
was fairly inaccessible; the nest tree was
very tall with no branches for the first
30 feet. Eric set up an observation blind
to determine the age of the eyases
while Tom geared up for the climb. Too
bad there aren't photos to document
Tom practicing on the telephone pole
in front of the house. For his virgin
climb, he had to climb 70 feet up a
tupelo gum (Nyssa aquatica) in a light,
slippery rain. Tom and Eric each took
an eyas from that nest, lightening the
parent's load to a more manageable
two. Eric had success with his tiercel,
taking sparrows with it at the 1980
NAFA Meet in Alamosa.
One of Jennifer's early encounters
with Eric was an embarassing phone
call. In 1984 she had to call and tell him
that an agent of wildlife and fisheries
had assigned him as her sponsor. She
listed Tom as her sponsor, but
apparently he had his fu ll quota of
apprentices at the time. Eric was
incredulous and somewhat aggravated
at first; this was not a matter to be taken
lightly. He had only met her once and
probably did not remember her. Not to
mention the fact that he lived almost an
hour's drive away, making it difficult
for him to effectively monitor
her falconry activities. However, he
realized that she had nothing to do with
this mistaken appointment. Because
she was a good friend of Tom's, and
Tom had agreed to sponsor her, Eric
eventually consented.
If you ever saw Eric at one of the
NAFA Meets selling his wares, you
would immediately recognize that he
Portrait of Eric painted by Dorothy Billiu.
was no businessman. His miniatures
were ridiculously underpriced, and he
was certainly no salesman. Once when
Jennifer called him to buy a merlin
miniature, he had forgotten the price.
Needless to say, he never had any mon-
ey. He was also generous to a
fault...every year Eric would give Tom
one of his larger miniatures.
If you have the good fortune to view
his works, you will find that he captures
the essence of each raptor. Eric never
used artistic license that compromised
the bird's true anatomy. In contempo-
rary wildlife art, it is not unusual to see
the juxtaposition of a hawk's head on a
falcon's body, or a sloppy representa-
1994 NAFA Journal
North American Falconers' Association
tion of the raptor's feet. Eric was truly a
master of detail, possessing the falconer's
eye for birds of prey.
After his death, Eric's family broke
the molds, fearing that no other artist
would faithfully do them justice. Eric's
mother, Nell, has a substantial collection
of his artwork, for he fondly made her
copies of most of his pieces. This col-
lection is awe-inspiring. Sadly, some of
his best works are unfinished. A prairie
falcon, almost completely painted, lies
beside a covey of tiny Gambel's quail.
Eric intended to create a desert diorama
of the falcon in hot pursuit. The life-
sized merlin, cast but unpainted, waits
Prairie falcon pendant, 1" wingspan.
for his hand. His mother alone holds his
most prized possession—his life-sized
gyr falcon, "Arctic Lord". He almost
had a buyer for this piece. He hoped it
would fetch $15,000.00. He tried
many times to make a replica of the
"Arctic Lord", but his casts kept crack-
ing. Nell Bienvenue also has the hooded
saker fitted with Arab gear on a block
perch. Eric titled this piece "Al Flur".
The moving tribute "Eric Bienvenue—a
Memorial" by Sue and Dan Cecchini,
Jr. (1990 Journal) shows photos of Eric
refining his "Arctic Lord" and holding
On the day he died, his hawk-trap-
ping friends at Cedar Grove saw a gyr
falcon fly over. They watched it till it
flew out of sight, thinking of him. At
Eric's request, his ashes now rest at his
Red-tailed hawk, 1978, 4.25" high.
favorite Wisconsin haunt.
Many things remind us of Eric: making
dho-gazzas, sitting in a hawk blind, or
gazing on his porcelains. We cannot see
a sharp-shin or a merlin without thinking
of him. Sensing that he was near the end,
Eric gave Tom his Katona watercolor of
a jack merlin. It hangs over our
mantelpiece. Rarely does one find such
zealous enthusiasm for falconry and the
birds coupled with the artistic talent all in
one man. But Eric would" not want us to
lament. So in his memory we f i n d
comfort in what he l e f t behind—he put
so much of himself into these, his
porcelain hawks and falcons. May his art
bring him yet another form of
immortality. Special thanks to Cesar and
Terri Diaz for their assistance and to
Nell Bienvenue for opening up her
home, feeding us lunch and sharing her
1994 NAFA Journal