I love where I live, where I have grown up. Huge live oaks, with arms outstretched, spinning to the ground, with moss hanging town, creating canopies, shading all from the harsh summer sun. There are sunsets on the bay that you can never explain to people, you have to see it, the colors fading down to nothing. Natives considered this land sacred land, and I can see why, with the bay giving up jubilees that to this day cause families to gather early in the morning and scoop up all different kinds of sea life that wash ashore. We are one of only two places in the world that this happens. It took me 33 years to finally understand that though you may disagree with a history, with actions, with wars and conquests, you can still love the place you live, love the community you walk with, and learn from all of these things to create something new and sacred again.
I started The Serpents of Bienville project in January of 2015, but it is really something that I have been thinking about for a long time. Growing up on the Alabama Gulf Coast, I would hear little stories here or there revolving around long gone eras in this area. After moving away at 17, and coming back at 26, I began to really have an appreciation for the history and folklore that resides here. In May of 2014, we opened a new shop and were trying to decided on a name, which is never an easy task. This is where my research into the folklore of the area really started. One of the things I found that fascinated me was the story of the founder of Mobile, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. The story revolved around Bienville getting tattooed by local native tribes in order to gain their trust. I was amazed that this story was in my area and I never really knew about it. I became obsessed with the idea of tattooing being a sacred oath that Bienville took with this native tribe. I began to research deeper into the topic, and found out that this oath may have been more real that I ever could have thought, with both participants stories ending in the same dark way.
I continued researching and reading, and finding more stories that tied to other stories, that tied to other people, that tied to other myths. Some of these myths and stories had elements that I was proud of and some had elements that I was completely opposed to. Growing up in a DIY Punk Rock community, I spent so much time focusing on all of the things I was against, all of the people that I thought were doing wrongs. Protests, boycotts, rallies, all fighting a clear enemy, something that is very black and white. The older I have gotten I have learned that grey is thrown in there, and things may be more complicated than I had previously thought. This doesn’t mean to give up like we hear about movements time and time again, but to research more, and to learn from the things that cause anger in our hearts. Researching these myths and stories showed me that more and more, also that I have a lot to learn. There was more grey, more questions, more varying answers. In taking on the things that turned me off so badly at the beginning, and continuing my research, I began to find lessons in these stories that I had never seen before, lessons I would have missed at a younger age because of wanting to throw away everything that was ugly to me. No longer looking at people as good or evil, and their actions not being for a greater cause, I began to find the humanity in all of these stories. Humanity can be beautiful, but sometimes it is the ugliness in humanity that we can truly learn from. Finally, at the age of 33 I am starting to accept my ignorance and my need to learn, and these stories have been a door way for me to do that.
The Serpents of Bienville has become a labor of love, reflecting that fondness for where I grew up, along with the hard lessons learned. Now, the final vision of the project has come into focus, and the first phase is starting. I am taking thirteen myths, stories, or folklore, and breaking them down. I create a representation of each story on 11”x17” boards. Each piece corresponds with a story, with each story having an essay explaining it in a historical context, and then taking a sociological look at how it applies to present day lives. Thirteen stories will be presented, eventually leading up to a book containing all of the prints and essays collected in one place. Starting July 7th, and then every following quarter a new set of three limited edition prints will be released (along with shirts, buttons, stickers, and more), leading up to the final release of the book in 2016. I am only releasing 30 packages on this first run. Prints, apparel, and more can be purchased at www.thebellrosetattoo.com/sean-merch. Portions of the essays will be published here at www.seanherman.com. Each print will include a short exert about the the piece, with the final full essay being available in the final book release. I hope you enjoy learning about these stories, and the lessons learned from them as much as I have. This project is one that will continue growing, and I will probably be working on for the rest of my life. Keep checking back for more releases and essays to be published.