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Cultural Herpetology: The Serpents of Bienville

04 Oct 2015

written by Mailer-Daemon

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We heard the phrase and loved the art, so we hit up artist Sean Herman for an explanation.

What’s this all about? What brought you to this project?

The Serpents of Bienville is an ever growing project that I started earlier this year.  In May of 2014 Peter Anderson, Pony, and I were opening a new tattoo shop. I thought it would be really important to have the name tie in locally, giving a tie to the area.  I thought it would also show the community that we wanted to be contributing to the good things that we all love about this community, trying to help it grow.

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A version of Bienville’s disc tattoo, as seen in Julian Rayford’s 1974 sculpture of an Alabama native American, hanging on the entrance to the George Wallace tunnel.

When we were looking for a name of the shop I stumbled across the story of Bienville being covered in tattoos of snakes, and saw the piece of art by Julian Rayford.  It is a sculpture created in 1974 of an Alabama native American, which is hanging on the entrance to the George Wallace tunnel. It has a hand with a serpent around it.  The image of a snake and hand got stuck in my head and just kept growing.

Originally one of the ideas for the shop name I had was “Sacred Oath” and using that image.  It definitely didn’t fit the direction we were going with the shop, and we decided to go with “The Bell Rose” based off of an early name for a portion of land that became the city of Daphne.  The Bell Rose also reflected the people involved in the shop much more.  The Bienville idea was much more dark, more of a southern gothic feel, so it became something that I wanted to run with for my own work.

I spent months working on a drawing of the hand and serpent image I had been thinking of.  Tattooing was my primary medium, so I was also having to teach myself how to use pen and ink in an effective way to get the image across.  I also continued to research about Bienville, his history, and his ties with the Native Americans in the area.  The more I learned, the more it shaped the image, and the more it became something about the relationship between Bienville and the natives, and the promises a tattoo could make.  What eventually was shaped was the beginning of the first story, that of Bienville.

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simulated Bienville

While I was working on that I came across other stories and started working on drawings for them.  The project grew exponentially from there.  I decided to do a book of 13 prints, with 13 stories, and then tying those stories to how they apply to our life today.  I think it’s important to view how we can learn from past actions to grow as people today.

Whoopi Goldberg did an intro on a Looney Tunes collection that was interesting and made me think.  She advises the viewers that some of the cartoons on the set contain content that is politically incorrect by today’s standards, but tells them that they will be shown uncut for historical reasons, “because removing these inexcusable images and jokes from this collection would be the same as saying [these prejudices] never existed”.

Growing up in Punk Rock culture in the South, I was so used to being against so much of the past culture, that I missed the story as a whole.  The older I have grown, the more I see that in order to truly change something to a positive direction, we have to hear the full story, the history behind it, the reasons the actions were committed, and learn why we never will be that way again.

Illustration entitled “The Serpents of Bienville” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

As for the art side.  I am still working on the prints for the book.  They are done primarily by stippling, which is a lengthy process that I had to teach myself.  Because of that, prints can take anywhere from 30 hours to 50 hours to complete.  Along with that, I am writing each chapter as I go, and the ideas of each are constantly evolving and growing, so the writing continues to grow.

We started the website last month, putting a store on it so people can purchase the first run of three finished prints, along with shirts, buttons, stickers and more.  I am going to be doing a second run of two new prints that will be available for Halloween, along with some new shirt designs and stickers.  With the introduction of the website and social media (Marla Stone has been working hard on social media posting and updating, helping those avenues to grow), the Serpents project has continued to change and now incorporate more contributors, with blogging becoming a huge part in this.

I am doing regular blog postings, with stories from each print, along with other stories from around the area.  My wife, Amanda Herman, is doing weekly posts about local oddities and strange stories, along with shortened versions daily on our social media sites, which can be found on www.serpentsofbienville.com .  I have loved reading these and am always excited to see the next one.

We are also collecting interviews from local and regional authors, artists, and musicians, focusing on how growing up in the Deep South influenced them, and what stories they were most influenced by.  We will also have writers from different fields from around the area contributing pieces about different topics.  We are creating a community based in conversation, but one that everyone will be able to identify with and contribute too.  We will be doing a special piece that will be contributions from readers, with the serpents team going out to many places they have heard about from the readers and writing about them.  Our next foray will be into podcasting, which will be starting within the next month or two.  I am really excited to see where that part of it goes.

The Serpents of Bienville is growing because of the help from the community it is creating.  Our end goal is really just to get the message out of inclusion, learning, and appreciation for the area we live.  When the art and book side of it is done, I will be taking it to galleries, libraries and community centers.  We will be doing readings, selling prints, books, and other merchandise.  The idea with that is that anyone can come out to the gallery show and be able to purchase something that is a part of it, even if it’s just a dollar sticker, it is still something that is apart of the project as a whole, which makes them become a part of it.

Serpents is growing from an idea I had for one drawing, to a book, and now it’s becoming something that is it’s own thing, a community that creates, and that is why we now end everything with “WE are the Serpents of Bienville”.  My wife wrote an awesome piece that really reflects that,

“We birthed from ancient bogs where fog concealed marauder’s scorchings
left from the fires of freedom, and loss thereof it’s spoil.
The wicked soils birthed nourishment, shores lined themselves in feast.
No heed to Iberville omen, the harbinger of bones in the harbor just back.
And now we revel with the saints and haints rekindled year again,
and jubilee on in holy shallows knowing each of us shall join them
under the oak once more with only wampus to guard our souls.
Keep treasure Mauvila in your heart, they knew what we forget.
Brand the surface with what you will, it still passes with master to grave.
It wasn’t only Creek that saw our slither boding.
We are The Serpents of Bienville.”
                                                                                                               –  Amanda Herman

I am excited to see where it goes, and grateful for what it is.  I have already learned so much about this area that it has made me so proud to live here.  This land was considered sacred by the natives that were here before, and I can see that now.

http://www.serpentsofbienville.com/

Serpents of Bienville facebook


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