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Week #27
This work was done by Lisa Devlin in New Orleans in 2017 for the session “Italic and Variations” in 26 Seeds: a Year to Grow. In her own words:
I spent the first 18 years of my life in New York before attending college in New Orleans. Some of my friends there were native Louisianians and I admired, almost envied, their ties to such a rich heritage. It seemed to me that anyone could become a New Yorker, but you had to be born a Southerner, and in particular, a Louisianian. One friend from New Iberia used to proudly give small gifts of tabasco sauce, little handkerchief dolls from the Shadows on the Teche house and regional brochures. Once she gave a professor an ice chest filled with boudin. Another friend invited a few of us to stay with her grandmother in Thibodaux where on the stove a pot of red beans and rice awaited us when we walked in the door. Eventually I would learn how to make a fairly decent pot of gumbo, but it wasn’t the soup of my youth or my heritage. Perhaps that’s why creating images about Louisiana is important to me. It’s claiming a piece of this culture for myself, reflecting my admiration for its uniqueness and my concern for its future.

Working as a graphic designer years later, I’ve created many logos and because of that I’m particularly interested in symbols—their power to represent an idea and a culture. I thought: what if Louisiana were its own civilization like ancient Egypt, complete with its own symbols? The fleur-de-lis and mother pelican feeding a nest of babies are examples and can be seen everywhere on just about anything. But could I transform some well-known ancient symbols to represent our own unique, modern day concerns?

And that’s how the Bayou Ouroboros was born. The original ouroboros is a snake (sometimes a dragon) depicted in a circle (sometimes an infinity sign) consuming its own tail. There are different interpretations for this symbol but basically it represents the cycle of life and death and rebirth. In place of the snake I created an alligator to represent this cycle here in Louisiana.
In this sense, coastal erosion is threatening the existence of local communities and a way of life. People in areas such as the Isle de Jean Charles have had to be relocated. Roads and even cemeteries are being washed out into the Gulf of Mexico. Many sons of generations of shrimpers have left home, no longer able to make a decent living from a vocation that was once a source of pride as well as income.
That’s why I find the threats posed by coastal erosion so disturbing. Still, there’s hope we can slow down the erosion, restore some of the lost land and preserve what remains. To me, the bayou ouroboros is a symbol of that hope. A journalist named Mike Tidwell documents this erosion and its consequences so movingly in his book Bayou Farewell. ere are many haunting passages and I thought the last paragraph would be appropriate for a calligraphy text to accompany the bayou ouroboros symbol.

The words “Bayou Ouroboros” that appear below the symbol are my own variation of an Italic variation. I drew and refined it in pencil, then scanned the design and added color to it in Photoshop. e text block from Tidwell’s book is in Italic and drawn with a Mitchell 3 nib in gouache which was then scanned and also brought into the Photoshop file. The alligator was originally drawn by hand, scanned, refined in Adobe Illustrator and then transferred to Photoshop. I layered the ouroboros with other images and adjusted the colors and textures. I like to think of the final result as an alligator ouroboros sun rising like a fiery ball at dawn from a dark and mysterious swamp.

More than 30 years have passed since I graduated from college. I never thought I’d spend them in Louisiana and I have no immediate plans to say farewell.

It’s home.

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