The Serpents of Bienville is a community-based project centered on Alabama culture, history, myth, and folklore. The stories bestowed on us from generations past are just as important as the stories we are shaping with our actions today. We would love nothing more than to hear from you, the vibrant and influential artistic community, if you are open to being a part of the tale we are working hard to create. So tell us your story, share your wisdom, and help us create a community we can all be proud to call our Alabama.
I first met Chris Cumbie over 20 years ago, and I am so grateful I was lucky enough to become his friend. My friends and I were little skate punks, skateboarding around Gulf Shores Alabama. We spent our days looking for new spots to skate, getting chased out, and like any good experience as a teenager, putting ourselves in danger. Chris was 20, we all were about 12 years old, that cusp of pre-teenage adolescence, or in other words, completely annoying. Chris was kind enough to open his doors to a bunch of little punks, and introduce us to a counter culture that further changed my life forever. We spent those long summer days, skating all day on his mini ramp, only a couple of blocks from the beach. Looking back on it, it was the stuff that dreams are made of, all day skate sessions, listening to punk rock, and laughing non stop. I remember spending all day, listening to the descendants album "somery" on repeat, with intervals of Chris saying "If you guys like that, you will love this". Chris introduced us to so many bands, so much skateboard history, and a DIY punk culture that would forever change my life. He had introduced us to what became my first love, punk rock, which got me into my life love of tattooing. I always have felt that I owe Chris so much for being willing to help a group of preteen kids, encourage us, and introduce us to a culture that forever changed my life for the better.
Years passed, and I lost touch with Chris. I would tell the stories about skating at his mini ramp all the time. With every place I moved as an adult, I began to miss the area I grew up in Southern Alabama, and those days on the mini ramp became something more of a dream that I longed for. When I moved back into the area some years ago, Chris reached out to me to get tattooed, and we reconnected. That first appointment he brought me a piece of art he had made for me, from found objects, and it was amazing. He was working by day doing tiling and carpentry work, and in his off time, he was making art. At that point he didn't consider himself an artist, and the piece he gave to me was one of the first pieces he had made, in his eyes he was just having fun. I remember telling him, "Quit your job, because you could easily do this full time. This is amazing." Now, six or so years later, Chris is one of the most sought after artist in the Southern Gulf Coast. He has long since left the field of carpentry, and is doing his amazing art full time. I am so proud of his ambition and drive to create honest, unique pieces, made from objects from the area around us. Over twenty years ago I was a little punk kid, skating on a mini ramp, hanging on every word this guy said about a movement I so loved, and now I find myself in the same position, being inspired more than I could ever say by the same humble guy that will always say the same thing, "I am not doing anything special, I am just doing what I love." I am so grateful that we were able to get an interview with him, and I think you will be able to see a glimpse of the guy that helped point me into the positive direction so long ago. Here's Chris Cumbie, in his own words.
1. Give us an overview of your art medium and style.
3D mixed media. I work with everything from wood, metal, paint, textiles, etc. you name it. I try to use as much reclaimed wood, metal and tin and repurposed found objects as possible. I create everything from wall pieces to stand alone sculptures to a series of characters called CREEPS.
2. Are you an Alabamian, born and raised?
I am. I was born in Mobile but raised in Little River, Alabama. Little River is a very, very small town up close to Monroeville. I grew up in the woods, hunting, fishing, trapping animals with my grandfather. The knowledge and experience I gained from that atmosphere was priceless and is a huge part of who I am and what I do today. I try to pay homage to my roots and long lost techniques through my work.
3. How does your experience with Alabama and the southern culture influence your art, in any form?
Being raised in such natural environment and small city, I learned to make do with all the elements that I was surrounded by. I guess that is represented in my work to this day. It gave me a different perspective when it comes to making something out of nothing and learning to use salvaged elements to create beauty.
4. Do you have a project you are currently working on or promoting?
I am constantly working on new art. Trying out new techniques, expanding my repertoire of objects used and I am really focusing on some functional art pieces that bring in elements of nature and pieces that preserve a piece of history in a unique way.
5. Are there any community projects, festivals, or gatherings you are either a part of, enjoy attending, or think that the area is lacking and would like to see organized?
We are lacking a true artists art festival. One that features the true talents of all mediums that this area has to showcase. There are so many "outsider" artists here without formal training that have talent that surpasses many of those who had years of schooling. I would like to see a festal that celebrates our Southern, self-taught, roots.
6. The Serpents of Bienville project came about because of our unending love for the stories that the South provides. Can you share with us your favorite story—whether it’s a ghost story, myth, fable, history lesson, or even some crazy tale an ancestor passed down—and how the story made it’s way to you.
Being raised in Little River, stories of Red Eagle, aka William Weatherford, were always talked about it. His grave is off this dirt road up in Little River and rumor has it that you can see his ghost dancing on his grave under the oak tree that sprouted from it ages ago. His grave and another cemetery that is home to some who lost their lives in the battle up there backed up to my family's property. I spent a lot of time there as a kid. It is still cool to visit and see all the things that the locals leave on his grave. There is also a cool site down by the river that tells the story of the infamous battle/massacre.
Click through this gallery to see more artwork from Chris Cumbie