Mississippi Family Creates Religious Art Using Catfish Skulls

by Madison Miller

Sometimes making art is about reducing, reusing, and recycling.

For a father and daughter pairing, finding old things washed up on the shore is like stumbling upon art supplies. Sonny Schindler and his daughter Margot live on the Mississippi coast.

Living on the Mississippi coast means there’s always the possibility of finding things left behind in the ocean. Whether that’s driftwood or messages in a bottle or even the skulls of catfish.

When it comes to catfish skulls, there is a lot of religious comparisons. The underside of the skull looks eerily like a crucifix. In addition, a catfish skull will make a rattling sound when someone picks it up and shakes it. This isn’t loose bones, but rather it’s the ear stones that provide the fish balance moving around.

According to Clarion Ledger, Schindler said that old legends state that the rattling sound represents the tip of the lance used to pierce Jesus’ side when he was crucified. Another legend says its dice being rolled by Roman soldiers as they gamble for the clothes on Jesus’ back.

People have even penned poems to symbolize the connection between catfish and religion. Conrad S. Lantz wrote a poem to immortalize the story sometime in the mid-20th century.

“Of all the fishes in the sea / Our Lord chose the lowly Sailcat / To remind us of his misery … You will hear the dice being tossed / For our Lord’s blood stained dress / Those who hear them / Will be blessed.”

See photos of the Catfish art pieces here.

Making Art with Catfish

So, why make art with old catfish skulls?

Besides the stories related to religion, they also provide a sense of empowerment and nostalgia for those in the area.

“The story I was always told was of all the creatures in the sea, the catfish is the most hated and looked down on. So, God goes and puts his imprint on it just because it needed the most help,” Schindler told Clarion Ledger.

The two started to place these crucifix-like skulls on a piece of driftwood and hang it in their homes as decoration. Then, Beth Cash, who owns an art shop, immediately took interest in them. Cash’s husband saw the art hanging in Schindler’s fishing guide service shop.

For people on the coast, stumbling on oysters, driftwood, and catfish skulls was common. However, put together it’s all an even deeper walk down memory shore.

“We have customers come in the store that are in their 80s and they talk about them. They’ve never seen them finished like this on the driftwood and on the oyster shells. The story about the cross is cool, too — the legend behind it. People just love it. Who knew a catfish could do all this?” Cash said.