Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Glory of Shells

I have loved shells for as long as I can remember. During my childhood summer beach trips, I remember religiously checking the tide report in the newspaper so that I could plan my daily shell hunting (sounds a little nerdy, no?).

If you're like me, then you must check out the beautiful new book The Shell: A World of Decoration and Ornament by Ingrid Thomas. This highly informative book covers the history of shells and the shell motif in art and decorative art through the ages. Chapters include shells in jewelry, art, architecture, furniture, and porcelain, to name a few.

What I find most fascinating are the objects that were created using actual shells. Some of the most amazing images (at least to me) are the rooms and grottos that are decorated entirely in shells! Can you imagine the time and labor that went into these rooms? The craftsmanship in all of the objects featured in the book are just remarkable. Of course, after reading the book I have all types of fanciful ideas about what to do with my collection of shells. But in reality? Perhaps I should stick to something simple like a small mirror!

Shell Gallery at Rosendael Castle, Netherlands, c. 1730.

"The Sharpham Shellwork", c. 1770. Created by Jane Pownoll with shells collected in the West Indies by her privateer husband, the work is a replica of Sharpham House.

A carved mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell jewelry casket, 19th c. English.

Shell obelisks by Tess Morley, 1999

Pair of Olympic torches created by Peter Coke, 2001

Arcimboldesque Shell-Head Fountain in the garden of Petit Chateau, Parc de Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France.


  1. This looks absolutely exquisite Jennifer!

  2. djellabah11:33 AM

    Friends of mine in England, a wonderful artist and his wife, have built a majestic grotto in a series of subterranean arcades on their estate. They have done it all themselves, with shells cast off from seafood restaurants, et cetera, amended with other lovely bits and pieces. It is one of the most dazzling and beautiful interiors I have ever experienced, mysterious and whimsical at the same time, and due to its nearly-underground situation, a cool spot to rest in the heat of summer.

  3. Anonymous12:03 PM

    These are impressive, but I have to admit, I like shells best when they are loose, like in a beautiful bowl or just laid out on shelves or tables.


  4. Love the fountain. And I know what you mean about shelling -- the elusive and highly prized conch! One day....

    Djellabah, do you think they'd let you take some snaps for us? Sounds fantastic!

  5. Easy and Elegant- I'm with you- I want to see photos as well! How incredible!

  6. Funny I don't know if it's the rebel in me. My mother did not allow us to have them in the home becuase it spanish culture they symbolize death. I think that that's strange because my family's coat of arms features several scalloped shells. Anyway love them when they are used in over the top configurations like these!

  7. Vie- Uh oh! Wish I had known this b/f I collected all of those shells!

  8. Bridgewater2:49 PM

    Don't forget all the impressive shellwork done by Marian McEvoy.

  9. Bridgewater- I could never forget her! She's the queen! I just wish I was as handy with the glue gun as she is :)

  10. I love shells, but I didn't know how much you could do with them, really!! That fountain is amazing!!


  11. djellabah5:03 PM

    Another especially thrilling book about shells and their artistic use is "Shell Shock: Conchological Curiosities" by the French writer and scholar Patrick Mauriès (Thames & Hudson, 1994).

  12. djellabah5:05 PM

    Shell lovers, pay attention and visit the following site and be dazzled:

  13. I love the obelisks - I'm on the hunt for a good pair. These would definitely top the list.

  14. What a lovely sounding book. I adore the mother of pearl covered jewellry casket - what craftsmanship!

  15. I have always loved shells, may be because I' m a coastal girl.
    I collect vintage shells souvenir , they are so KITCH and so cute

  16. Wonderful post, intriguing subject!
    For those who may wish to collect shells for
    their own sake, may I recommend the
    website of a friend in the south of France who travels
    the globe in search of rarities:

  17. So inspiring. I have turned my love for shells and the environment into a career. I make silver jewellery from reclaimed silver and mother of pearl from antique buttons, jewellery and second hand shells. Check it out:

  18. Hi Jennifer,
    Your blog is amazing. I grew up in London and once met Peter Coke.....he willed his entire Collection to the Museum at Norfolk. He started this as a hobby when he went to Barbados for Winters. He was a well known Actor. If I find the photo I took of him with his favorite piece, I will pass it along.
    I work with Shells as well and accept that small Shell Mirror might just materialize!

    Presently, I have this one listed on Ebay.....
    ........ but feel free to contact me at & I can send you some of my more popular designs.

    Keep up the good work.
    Marilyn Haynes Smith

  19. Beautifully designed decor. I love it.