Monday, February 1, 2010
Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History had, as I recall, an excellent display of seashells from around the world. I wish I could find an image of the display online, but haven't had any luck... I hope that it is still there (they were renovating several older exhibits last time I was there), and I also hope I'm not mixing up my Natural History Museums at this point! At any rate, I will cite that extensive display of shells at the Field Museum as inspiration for my pursuing the hobby of collecting, and decorating with, seashells.
The images immediately above and below depict a small cabinet I picked up for a few dollars at a thrift store in Chicago. The glass front and side panels were originally wood; I simply popped out the wood panels and replaced them with glass, then cut and installed two glass shelves and a nice nickel knob, and gave it a few coats of paint: white outside, sea blue inside. I've picked up shells and bits of coral and sea life to put inside mostly at various beaches, though a few special ones were purchased from some of the many excellent seashell shops during visits to Sanibel Island, Florida. The beaches on Sanibel are veritable shell shops in their own right; the island is situated such that tons of shells from the Carribbean and beyond are carried there by the currents and dropped off right at your feet... all one has to do is assume the famous "Sanibel stoop" and make your way slowly up and down the shore picking up your treasures!
I made little stands for some of the shells by cutting a 1" diameter dowel into 3/8" thick disks. I then drilled a hole in the center of each disk and inserted a short length of brass rod, bent as needed to fit into the opening of the shell so that the shell could be displayed upright.
One of my favorite shells to hunt for on Sanibel is the tiny "coquina" (Donax variabilis) shell; what they lack in size is made up for in the fun assortment of rainbow colors that nature has imbued them with! They are sometimes called "butterfly shells" and it is easy to see why; at first glance you might think the image below is a butterfly display! In fact, I just picked out some nice colorful coquinas from my collection, drew a pencil grid onto a piece of black mat board (I left the pencil grid lines; I like the somewhat scientific "compartmentalized" appearance they lend) and glued a matched pair of coquina shells into the center of each square of the grid! They are framed in an inexpensive white Ribba frame from Ikea.
In an earlier "The Natural History Museum Inspired This" post on minerals, I pictured a pack of vintage educational mineral "flash cards" made by Ed-U-Cards of Nature. That company also issued a beautiful set of seashell cards; I liked looking at them so much that I decided to make a permanent display for them so I could enjoy seeing them all at once!
I started by assembling a simple 3 foot by 4 foot background support using 1"x 2" pine strips from the lumber store for the four sides (and 2 extra cross-strips in the center for support) onto which I glued a 3 x 4 foot sheet of Masonite. I painted the surface of the Masonite with primer, and then a light yellow/putty shade, then used PVA glue to glue the cards on. Over all that I affixed a sheet of protective Plexiglas by drilling small holes in each corner and the center of each side of the Plexiglas. I screwed tiny screws through each of the 8 holes and into the wooden background support to hold it on.
I haven't yet tired of looking at those cards, and I'm pretty good at recognizing shells by sight now, as well!
Also in that earlier post on minerals, I wrote about a contemporary reprint I found of one of my favorite little Golden Guide field guides entitled "Rocks, Gems and Minerals". Well, it turns out, the whole line of Golden Guide field guides has been re-issued, with updated covers, but featuring all of the same terrific information and illustrations as the originals! I recently picked up the beautiful edition on seashells and have enjoyed it immensely! Does anyone else remember having one (or more) of these books as a youngster?
Early one morning I walked out onto the beach in Sanibel and found that hundreds of sea urchins with brilliant purple shells had washed ashore overnight. I eagerly carried an armload back to the bungalow and set about cleaning them. They were very delicate, though, and only three or four made it home intact (two of them are barely visible on the bottom row of the second photo). One afternoon I was at Jamali Hardware and Garden in Manhattan searching for some supplies I needed to finish a window decorating project I was working on, and saw (of all things!) a bin of beautiful salmon pink sea urchin shells. They felt quite durable and I sure liked the color, so I purchased a few dozen. Back home, I packed them into an antique apothecary jar, and have enjoyed displaying them along with my collection of "sea curios" ever since!
To learn more about seashells than you ever wanted to know, hop over to the fun Seashell Collector website! Thank You ever so much for joining me, and I do hope we meet again soon!