Cypress trees are steeped in Louisiana history. Pulled from the swamps, milled, and hammered into the homes of our ancestors. As these old houses disappear, part of our legacy goes with them. But a local artist is bringing them back to life with a unique art form as old as the swamps.
Henry Watson is a storyteller of sorts. Instead of words, he tells his story in taps, bangs, and scrapes. His instrument, a hammer and chisel. His canvas, cypress reclaimed from decrepit shotgun shacks that litter the landscape.
"Each board gives you a different idea," says Watson as his chisel gouges a bit of pulp from a worn cabinet front.
He learned his craft more than 30 years ago as a student at Livonia High School. "I went home every day and practiced how to carve things," he says. It works a whole lot better using a chisel than a screwdriver."
Part sculpture, part carving, part painting; Watson's art tells the story of early Louisiana. "Louisiana is full of so many different history -- all over -- from old buildings to plantations to steamboats. We got it all here. It gives me a chance to bring it out in these carvings." He says he waits for the boards to tell him what they want to be. "It could have been a little old shotgun house, and you wonder if a chicken was running around the yard, and is it down there. I put all that back into the boards."
He never imagined his art might take him out of the swamps and into the big city.
Last month, Watson and his carvings were a part of the New York City kickoff of the new season of the History Channel's popular program, Swamp People. The show follows alligator hunters through the swamps revealing a lifestyle of days gone by.
"When I pulled out these old boards and laid them inside that place," says Watson, "they was wondering what in the world is this guy gonna do?
Watson did what he does best. He told the state's story through his craft. Folks from the History Channel were so impressed that they asked him to tell a new story. A story of nature and man, and a Cajun with a catch phrase.
In all, the History commissioned seven pieces: six replicas of the network's logo, and a large carving of Swamp People star, Troy Landry. Watson says they'll probably be given as gifts to History Channel executives.