snake week art!

In anticipation of the Center for Snake Conservation’s First Annual Fall Snake Count (Sept 17-23, 2011), I’ve decided to compile some of my favorite artistic representations of these critters for your enjoyment. Backyard bird counts are fairly common, but this is your chance to enjoy some time outside and help conserve our native serpents!

“The 1st Annual Fall Snake Count will be held from September 17 – 23, 2011 during Snake Week.  Snake Week is a bi-annual seven-day event that engages snake enthusiasts of all ages to promote snake conservation.  One way you can participate is to join the Snake Count by counting snakes to help create a real-time snapshot of how snakes are doing across the United States.” -Center for Snake Conservation

For you photographers out there, participating in the snake count also makes you eligible to enter the CSC First Annual Fall Snake Week Photo Contest!

Now….on to the art! Snakes have been an object of both fascination and fear for humans for millenia. Great Serpent Mound in Ohio – the largest animal effigy in the world – depicts a snake and is though to have been built by the Fort Ancient culture of prehistoric native Americans around 1000 AD.

Great Serpent Mound, Ohio

I shared this image with you a few months ago on a post about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Connections exhibit series. It is a truly beautiful representation of a snake from Skink and Snake (Tokage and Hebi) by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro, from Picture Book of Selected Insects with Crazy Poems (Ehon Mushi Erabi)

Skink and Snake by Kitagawa Utamaro, 1788. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here is a colorful 1295–1213 B.C. tempera on paper painting from the Egyptian Tomb of Sennedjem, depicting a very dexterous Cat Killing a Serpent. It’s amazing that this paper piece has survived the ages with these brilliant colors in tact.

Cat Killing a Serpent. Tomb of Sennedjem. Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This gold bracelet, from quite a bit later in Egyptian history, depicts a coiled cobra. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “after Egypt came under the rule of the Hellenistic Greeks (323–27 B.C.) and later became a province of the Roman Empire (after 27 B.C.), the snake became a fashionable jewelry motif, well- suited for coiling around the neck and wrist.” These are still fashionable today, and you can even buy a reproduction in the Met’s store.

Gold Snake Bracelet. Roman empire, Egypt. Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Snakes have been used as symbols of renewal and rebirth (as they shed their skin), the cyclical nature of life (depicted as a snake coiled and biting its own tail) and are invoked in a number of creation myths. I’m sure you all recognize the pesky individual in Fernado Botero’s 1998 painting Adam and Eve.

Fernando Botero's Adam and Eve

Animals, including snakes, also feature prominently in sculptures and pottery of many central American cultures. The sculpture below is an Aztec representation of a coiled snake, created in the 15th or 16th century AD.

Coiled Serpent. Aztec. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Early American explorers and naturalists rendered exquisite representations of the herpetofauna, including these prints that were included in G.M. Wheeler’s 1875 Report Upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian.

Kingsnakes by G.M. Wheeler (1875

Crotalus pyrrhus. Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake by G.M. Wheeler (1875)

This modern sculpture by stonecarver William E. Nutt captures the fluidity of the snake’s movement. To create this sculpture, surely Nutt must have done some snake watching of his own. “Once I have selected an animal,” says Nutt, “I will extensively study it. Optimally this includes study in the wild, but due to the uncooperative nature of such beasts and the difficulty of travel, I make extensive use of books and photographs. I have to learn the essence of the animal along with the anatomy necessary to bring out the true nature of the animal.”

Black Snake. 2002. William E. Nutt. Available from

Perhaps the perfect image to celebrate the Center for Snake Conservation’s First Annual Snake Week is American photographer Lee Seivan’s 1940’s photograph Children Watching Snake Held By Teacher. This captivating photograph reveals the beguiling nature of these slithering creatures that truly makes snakes remarkable members of the animal kingdom. Whether you like them or hate them, snakes will always get your attention.

Children Watching Snake Held by Teacher. 1940's by photographer Lee Seivan. Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

If any of these images have stoked your curiosity and fascination, it’s not too late to sign up for the snake count – just visit the Center for Snake Conservation’s website.

This entry was posted in animals, art and tagged , by h. gillespie. Bookmark the permalink.

About h. gillespie

Hayley Gillespie is an artist-scientist with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution and Animal Behavior. She studies endangered species, teaches biology at Austin area universities, and is the founder/director of Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin, Texas.

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