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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Ghost stories and swamps inspire woman's jewelry

Ghost stories and swamps inspire woman's jewelry

HOUMA, La. (AP) — Ever since Nell Bentz was a young child growing up on the bayous around Thibodaux and Schriever, she's been a sucker for ghost stories, especially Louisiana folklore.

The Lafourche native's love for ghost stories would eventually draw her into Manchac Swamp, where the hurricane-summoning voodoo priestess Aunt Julia Brown is rumored to reside.

Armed with her boat and a sturdy pair of boots, Bentz began exploring the swamp, and ultimately fell in love with the place, she said. She began picking up pieces of fallen cypress, which she sanded, polished and shaped into pendants she could wear.

"My swamp obsession led me directly into my jewelry making obsession," Bentz said. "The swamp calls out to my soul and jewelry making is my outlet for sharing the way it makes me feel to the rest of the world."

Now over three years later, Bentz makes a variety of swamp-inspired jewelry using small bones, flora, Spanish moss, cicada wings and other small items she collects in the swamps. She sells the pieces in her Etsy store, Haunted Cypress. To date, she's sold over 450 pieces.

"With every piece I've purchased from Haunted Cypress, there is always such a magical vibration," one reviewer from St. Louis, Missouri, wrote. "You can tell every piece has been thoughtfully put together. There is a different feel to every piece -- a morsel of the artist's intention imprinted onto it -- and it is no different with this piece."

While Manchac Swamp is her main source of supplies for her jewelry, she also collects supplies from the Honey Island Swamp, Dulac, various Louisiana nature trails and bayous, as well as the occasional New Orleans cemetery.

One of the most memorable pieces she's made was a memorial necklace for a customer whose grandpa had just died. He was a Louisiana fisherman, so she requested a swamp locket filled with flowers from his funeral, cypress, Spanish moss and a fishing hook.

When she's not crafting jewelry or exploring the swamps, she works at a car wash in New Orleans issuing brake tags and detailing cars, working her way toward making jewelry and selling her creations at markets and festivals full time.

"One time in Manchac Swamp, while taking a break, I parked my boat on the side of a bank to eat some crawfish and on each side of the bayou were two barred owls that started serenading each other," Bentz said. "All of a sudden one flew across the bayou over to its owl lover and they just started snuggling and cuddling each other. It was one of the sweetest, most enchanting moments I've ever experienced."