Functional Snakes


Art Nouveau Snakes

I consider myself 40% Catholic and 60% Baptist, but I'm in favor of every religion, with the possible exception of snake-chunking.
Anybody that so presumes on how he stands with Providence that he will let a snake bite him, I say he deserves what he's got coming to him.

- Earl Long

The snake continues to evoke fear and fascination.  The enduring mystery is why.  How has this phlegmatic, reclusive creature imprinted itself as such an evocative symbol in the human psyche?  Other reptiles, equally cold-blooded and scaly, escape enmity.  Children adore dinosaurs.  Turtles are pets.  Even alligators and crocodiles, which may be feared, are not loathed with the same intensity with which snakes are.  Perhaps we have inherited the instinct to avoid a creature that can kill without warning.  Perhaps we retain the awe inspired by the ancient alliance between snakes and the elemental forces of life and death.  Art, at its best, makes palpable our fascination with snakes, acknowledges their beauty, and keeps alive the mystery of their hold on us.

Hand ornament consisting of bangle and ring joined by fine double chain.  French, designed by Alphonse Mucha, executed by Georges Fouquet for Sarah Bernhardt, 1899.  Gold, enamel, opal and diamond, courtesy Christie's, Geneva

Sarah Bernhardt was a flamboyant and unconventional personality.  The actress inspired what many would consider the most famous jewel of the Art Nouveau period - shown above.  The piece was the first collaboration between Mucha and Fouquet, two Art Nouveau masters.  Mucha was Bernhardt's protégé; since 1894 he had overseen the design of all her productions, creating sets, costumes, hairstyles, and jewels.  He also designed her publicity posters, depicting her as a typical femme fatale - her slim and sinuous body draped in diaphanous robes, her hair unbound and flowing in serpentine coils.

Fin-de-siècle gossips reported that Bernhardt had trouble paying for the jewel and that Fouquet sent a messenger to the theatre each night to pick up an instalment.  Still, she held on to the piece until 1908, when she sold it to pay off her son's gambling debts.

Edgar Brandt (1880 - 1960), the French metalworker, is counted among the greatest craftsmen of the 20th century.  His most admired designs include the serpent lamp, which he made in several versions.  A cobra, rising from a basket, is the column of the lamp.  The snake's head wraps around the glass shade.  The object is beautiful and shocking: beautiful because Brandt has captured in gilded bronze the sinuous power of a cobra's body and its shimmering scales; shocking because a creature of the shadows has been transformed into an object that lights a room.

La Tentation by Edgar Brandt, 1920s.  Gilt bronze and alabaster with Daum glass shade, 66" high.  Macklowe Gallery & Modernism, New York

Snake pitcher, 1885, American, Gorham Manufacturing Company, silver, 10" high.  Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Edwin E Jack Fund

Source: Snake Charm by Marilyn Nissenson and Susan Jonas 1995 (a very interesting book!)

Idaho Couple's Home Infested With Snakes

The Hepworths knew the house would require some maintenance.  But they never thought they'd need a snake charmer.  Shortly after Lyman and Jeanine Hepworth began working on a rundown property outside of town, they experienced a trauma more fit for Samuel L Jackson's character in Snakes on a Plane than a pair of eastern Idaho do-it-yourselfers.  Snakes, perhaps thousands of them, fell on Lyman Hepworth's head when he opened the door to a pump house near the small house the couple planned to buy.  "When it warmed up, we walked onto the yard and the whole yard moved," Jeanine Hepworth told the Rexburg Standard Journal.

One day, Lyman Hepworth reached to turn on a light and discovered the pull cord was actually a snake.

Last March, the Hepworths were having money troubles.  Struggling to pay off their medical bills and make house payments, they sold their old home.  They planned to buy a home and a couple of outbuildings from an acquaintance on a few acres outside tiny Wilford.  Then they found the snakes - in the lawn, in the living room and in their hair.  Turns out the property was a winter snake sanctuary, likely a snake den or hibernaculum where snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate for the winter, said Lauri Hanauska-Brown, a biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.  In the spring and summer the snakes fan out across the wilds of eastern Idaho, but as the days get shorter and cooler, the snakes return to the resting place - in this case, the Hepworth's new home - where they ball up for heat.  The snakes are likely a terrestrial garter snake, Hanauska-Brown said.  Reptiles are a protected species meaning the Hepworths cannot bait them or kill them, she said.  The couple has not contacted Fish and Game to move the garters, Hanauska-Brown said.  The department would attempt to move the snakes, but it could be difficult because if they move them too far they would die and if they move them close by the snakes would likely return to hibernate, she said.  "They are used to going there and kind of balling up," Hanauska-Brown told The Associated Press.  "That sounds kind of Indiana Jonesish.  But this is a natural thing."

The Hepworths never moved in, but Lyman Hepworth's brother is still making payments, though the seller offered to refund their money when he found out about the infestation.  Their plan: they sent a videotape of the house, their children and, of course, the snakes to the producers of "Extreme Home Makeover," in hopes the television show would send its decorators in for a filmed renovation.  The video showed snakes slithering on the back porch, climbing up the foundation and a ball of snakes on the side of the home, Jeanine Hepworth said.  The couple will not find out if the show chooses their reptile refuge for a fix-up challenge until next year.  Meanwhile, summer has turned to fall.  And the snakes that have been out for the summer are making their way back to Hepworth's little home in Wilford.

Source: from The Standard Journal 26 September 2006

Do you want to see some disturbing photos of a boa constrictor?  Don't say I didn't warn you!

The previous 2 pages are also about snakes - one is about Snakes in Life and the other about Snakes in Art.  The following page is about a curious Biological Anomaly?  The "Back" and "Next" buttons below will also take you there.

For another lovely example of snakes in art, see the short, graceful animation Snakes based on a woodcut by M C Escher - unfortunately it is 9meg and requires a Flash plugin (but worth it!).  It will open in a new window...

For more on animals, including reptiles, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, fish, birds, pets, livestock, rodents, bears, primates, whales and Wellington's waterfront, click "Up" below to take you to the Index for this Animals section.

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