You’ve collected them and cleaned them, now where do you put them?
With the copious seashell collections belonging to members of the Louisiana Malacological Society, the solution is to incorporate them into their home decor.
With sizes of shells ranging from tiny to giant, ideas for using these treasures inside and outside abound.
Emily Vokes’ carapace creations start at the front door of her Ponchatoula home.
After painting a grapevine wreath black, she attached small shells in varying shades of white, finishing the piece with an earth-toned bow.
“Those aren’t ‘regular’ shells; those are pliocene fossil shells from south Florida, 4 or 5 million years old,” the retired paleontologist says. “My husband and I collected tons and tons of fossils (from that region).”
Inside on the mantel, a stalk of driftwood is decorated with shells clustered in flower patterns. The art piece was made by a former member of the club many years ago, Vokes adds.
“I’m afraid I’m a nut for driftwood. I love it,” she says. “I think most shell collectors are beachcombers at heart. We pick up everything … sea beans, starfish.”
On an office wall, the six frames holding pictures of shells also have a backstory.
“Those, again, are one of my inventions. They’re actually Xeroxes of photographs, and what that means is you lose all your gray tones, so they’re just black and white. The pictures are things I originally photographed for various publications. They’re recent shells, from the Red Sea, Gulf of Mexico, all over.”
Harriet Cole, society president, also has traveled the world in search of shells. This year, fellow members are honoring the longtime Baton Rouge collector with a shell named in her honor — the Niveria harrietae (Harriet’s Niveria).
“It’s a tiny thing, about the size of your little fingernail,” Vokes says.
She explains that anyone can name a shell species.
“You write up a description, what it looks like, any bumps it has, how many teeth, etc., and it has to be published in a professional journal,” she says.
Finding out if a shell has a name is part of the game, she says.
“You come up with a thing, and you can’t identify it, and you look at every place you can think of, and you go through all the literature, and you decide, ‘Gee, I can’t find this shell anywhere,’ and you feel free to name it,’ Vokes says. “And of course, then five years later somebody comes up and says, ‘Oh, that was named back in 1843 by so-and-so,’ and this does happen. But, so far, hers (Harriet’s shell) is still good.”
Cole has also found creative ways to display her collection, including on her dining table.
“My salad bowl (14 inches long) is one valve of a Tridacna gigas (giant clam). It grows in the south Pacific. An algae grows on the inside; it kind of makes it blue-green. They’re symbiotic. They live right inside the shell. Corral will grow around these things,” she says.
“For a larger salad, of course, you’d have a larger Tridacna,” she says, laughing.
Cole thinks she probably found the Tridacna gigas in Tahiti. “They’re very heavy,” she says. “You can’t bring back too many.”
The cleaning process from sea to salad was extensive.
“The inside is like an oyster shell, you just cut the mussel out and clean it out really good. The outside has periostracum. It’s brownish fuzzy stuff, but it’s short,” she says of the organic coating or “skin” of these shells.
That step is followed by a scrubbing with Clorox and water, Cole says.
A larger one of this type shell can be spotted in Cole’s back yard. “I use it as a watering place in the backyard for birds … or passing dogs,” she says.
Back inside, a sideboard, also in the dining room, features assorted medium and large shells, some displayed on stands.
“Those shells are too big for me to put in a drawer, so they sit on the sideboard,” she says. “At Christmas, if I don’t have time to pack them away, I will put some holly and other decorations around it, and call it quits. The holly looks really nice coming out of them.”
The Louisiana Malacological Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at the Council on Aging building, 6955 Florida Blvd. It includes a program, usually presented by members. For more information, call (225) 924-5772.
Follow Judy Bergeron on Twitter, @judybergeronbr.