Shell Art

"She sells seashells by the seashore." 
     The lazy, hazy days of summer are here, and while some of us are still practicing social distancing and reduced activities, there is one thing that some parts of the country are permitting ... walking on the beach or lake shore.  And, we bet that somewhere along the way, a seashell will catch your eye and you'll put it in a bucket to take home.  We have discovered some wonderful ways to create keepsakes and grand art pieces with your collected bounty.  Shell art is limitless, but here are a few ideas for you to try.
     If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a Sailor's Valentine, you are in for a breathtaking treat. These masterpieces of design and detail are the stuff of romance and history. Sailor's Valentines gained popularity in the 1800's when the sea-going mariners would bring them home to the women in their lives as gifts of love.  The craft most probably originated on the island of Barbados, a popular port-of-call, and has continued to this day.  The traditional early designs were set in octagonal mahogany wooden boxes where the island women would lay in delicate, tiny shells in intricate mosaic patterns.  Often, the center of the design was a heart or other sentimental message.  Eventually, these unique and quite valuable remembrances would find their way to North American ports where their recipients would proudly display them.  To an antique collector, the original box designs are very valuable - some fetching thousands of dollars.  To the modern crafter, they can be made in different types of boxes or containers to suit the owner.  From very small table size to larger wall art sizes, no two are alike, no two use the same shells, and no one is more beautiful as they are all extraordinary works of art and painstaking time and craftsmanship.
     But, Sailor's Valentines are not the only shell art that arises from the imagination and creativity of the artist.  Bathtubs, lamps, jewelry boxes, jars ... even still life floral arrangements made of shells ... there is literally no end to the way in which shells can adorn our lives. 
     In the Summer 2004 issue of  La Vie Claire magazine, several pages were devoted to inspiring magnificent creations born from nature.  And, she just touched the surface of the many, many artists (both professional and at-home designers) who have put their own signature on the craft. Photographs cannot however adequately portray the intracacy of the way each tiny, delicate shell is laid in.  But, it is a good place to start on your journey of discovery. 
     Once you've gathered your shells, or visited a hobby store and picked out some fancy or colorful ones, if you need help identifying your stock, this guide from the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island in Florida is an excellent refence. 
    If you live on or travel to Cape Cod, be sure to get in touch with Sandy Moran at  For more than 30 years, she has been creating Sailor's Valentines and teaching the craft.  Visit her website for more information on class schedules.  
     For more inspiration, check out Marlene Hurley Marshall's book, Shell Chic.  With photographs and directions to make 35 different projects, her book is an inspiration for both the beginner and advanced shell artists.  Available on Amazon.
     To read more about the shell artists Claire discovered, get the Summer 2004 issue of La Vie Claire here:
     Of course, if you'd rather not get sand between your toes, you can always bring home a Claire Murray rug!  Visit our collection of seashell rugs, or shop in one of our Cape Cod locations.  Our shell rugs bring the outside in, the beach to your home, and if you listen closely, you might even hear the waves lapping the shore.