The Shell Art Saga

The Holidays are a time that brings about many fond memories of childhood,  and engagement in numerous family traditions.  Sometimes, the traditions revolve around gift giving.  For most families, a thoughtful gift brings a smile to faces of both the giver and receiver. However, in my family, sometimes that most thoughtful gift only brings a smile to the giver’s face; eliciting groans and eye rolling from the receiver. My family is weird.

Decades ago, my Uncle David & his family sent a gift to my Aunt Jane that they picked up at a flea market near their Kentucky home.  They said that the minute that they laid eyes on it, they just knew that Jane should have it. They were so sure of it, that they even paid full price for it! At a flea market–the one place on earth where nothing is ever full price!

The One That Started It All.

They sent Jane a sculpture of a dog made out of tiny shells. This was funny for two reasons:

  1. Jane didn’t like dogs. (Which to this day I cannot fathom.)
  2. It was a dog. Made out of shells.

Jane was horrified–which was all that David needed to hear. Being the older brother, David still relished in finding ways to make his baby sister squirm.  Many Christmases and birthdays later, and Jane had amassed quite a collection of Shell Art.  A collection which she dutifully displayed in a big box on the bottom of her closet.

After feigning surprise that Jane hated dogs, David sent her a feline peace offering.

Of course the cat would want a few chickens to chase.

And perhaps a couple of geese for when the chickens grew tired of the kitty’s antics.

The same goes for this dog rabbit scary thing whatever this is.

Then a turtle wandered into the fray.

Followed by a squirrel…

And a few puppies…

Then a Very Handsome Rooster strutted by…which is right about when things get a little fuzzy. David & family told of a Near-Mythical Shell Art Bust of Elvis that they saw at a roadside card table stand Shell Art Gallery. They pulled over, and after browsing the artwork, they politely asked “How much for the Elvis?”

The Proprietress squared her shoulders and narrowed her eyes before responding, Elvis is NOT for sale! 

So it was either at this point or another that the whole Shell Art Movement must have underwent a Renaissance of sorts, because the artwork began to take on a decidedly different appearance.

Larger shells and googly eyes became the norm, as with this owl.

This mouse was brazen enough to sport both googly eyes and red lipstick. Diva!

Now this one! This one captured Bacon Slayers heart. He says that the only thing cooler than Dogs Playing Poker is Shell Art Guys With Cigars Playing Poker.

Fact: Bacon Slayer had a framed print of Dogs Playing Poker in his urban-pioneer-bachelor-penthouse before we were married.

Fact #2: Said framed print did not make the cut of Things Brought To Our First Home.

My brother is partial to the boxers. I can’t help but hear the Theme From Rocky when I see this one. (FYI: The big one on the left is Apollo Creed. Rocky is on the right.)

The Bobble-head Turtles are actually kind of cool. They are very smart as far as turtles go.  You can tell because they are wearing eyeglasses.

 Then things took another strange turn. I have no idea what this is supposed to be.

Brace yourself! These are all lamps. As in you plug them in and the conch shells glow!

Guitar-playing Blowfish wind chimes.

Tiki Hut Parrot wind chimes.

The end of the Wind Chime Era is when things got down-right scary. This butterfly jewelry box appears to be trimmed with the heads of golf tees. Golf tees! Golf tees are not shells! Serious Shell Art Foul.

Golf teas aside, the really scary part of the butterfly was found on the inside.

It’s an angel ornament. Holding a Midol pill. Made out of precisely what you think it is made out of. As are the wings.  After I was done being grossed out, I had just one thought:

Man! Would I have loved to have seen the table at the craft fair selling these babies!

Clearly my apple didn’t fall too far from the Family Weirdness Tree.

Since Jane has been gone for several years now, my parents and I decided to sort through the “treasures” and distribute them accordingly. We spent a little while cataloging the Shell Art Collection, and tried to best match the artwork with the intended familial recipient. We were getting ramped up to make a day of the project, but stopped short when we found ourselves saying “I think _______ would really like this one!” Then we reminded ourselves that this was indeed Shell Art, and that no one outside of the room was likely to display any of it.

Fact: I have the Very Handsome Rooster prominently displayed in my kitchen. Bacon Slayer’s prized Shell Guys With Cigars Playing Poker has a new home on his desk.

My Dad, being the photoshop/graphics guy that he is, made a Christmas card to send along with the care-packages to our family members.

I thought it was quite clever. You’ll notice my Very Handsome Rooster has a starring role in the Christmas Card. He’s also an excellent actor to play the part of a chicken. (He also had far fewer missing shells than the chickens did, and was dubbed more photogenic, thus earning the title Very Handsome.)

Upon receiving her carefully packaged Shell Art, my Aunt Catherine called my Dad and uttered just two words:

“Game on!”

Do you have any weird family traditions?

What is the best So-Tacky-It’s-Cool gift that you’ve ever received?

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  1. Amy says

    Oh.My.Lord. There are NO words for this!

    However… I do truly love the fact that even though we’ve been BFFs for quite some time now, I keep discovering layers to you that I had absolutely no idea were in there. :) Thanks for a lovely chuckle (and a few shocked gasps) this morning!

  2. says

    Oh that’s a riot… Yes, in my family we have a keychain that keeps making appearances. It was under the slice of cake I fed my husband at our wedding, and when my sister went on her honeymoon, it was attached to the key the hotel handed them for their room.

  3. Not Inadequate says

    This is the BEST STORY EVER.

    (I have never seen shell are before, and feel like I’ve just discovered a hole in my life that I didn’t know existed.)

  4. says

    TCP’s grandmother once gave him a replica of “The Thinker” by Rodin. It was clay, covered entirely with gold mylar that was glued on to look like it was gold leafed. It was about 10″ tall. He was stunned, which showed all over his face. It’s just hard to hide your emotions with a gift that awesome.

    Your family collection is awesome. Some might even say museum worhty, if there is such a thing as a Shell Art Museum (and I’ll bet there is somewhere). I think you and BS took the best of the crop with your rooster and poker game. Score!

    • says

      OMGosh! I hope you have The Thinker in a place of honor. That is awesome beyond words. You’ve got me thinking…there has to be a Shell Art Museum somewhere. Maybe we can see it along with the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and the other obscure sites that I plan on dragging my children to see.

  5. says

    This post (and all the pictures) was hilarious. Your Aunt Catherine’s comment at the end of it was a riot and the perfect ending (or beginning!!!)

  6. says

    I’m not sure if I’m horrified or in awe. The collection is beyond words.
    I am most confused by the Venus-esque “Jesus in seashells” lamp pieces. I think something like that would have given me nightmares as a child.
    Oh lawdy, and the BUTTERFLY ANGEL! We mustn’t forget that!
    Your family rocks.

  7. says

    I have no idea how all this shell art has existed without me being aware of it. Until now. Amazing. I can’t believe all that is out there.

    We had a used deodorant that made the rounds every Christmas for a few years. We’re a very sophisticated family.

    I’ll work on the bacon shells as soon as the weather gets a little better here. Don’t laugh, but it’s only about 40 degrees here right now, so we’re all holed up by the fireplace, avoiding the outside at all costs. :)

  8. says

    This was so funny. The golf tee’s got me big time!
    It all reminds me a little of stuff I would see on the coast of Oregon or Washington…I never see anything like it here in Hawaii though. I guess we’re a few years behind…hehe.

    • says

      You wouldn’t believe how long I stared at those golf tees trying to figure out what they were. Seeing as the box had an “angel” clutching Midol in it, I first thought they were aspirin or Smarties or something.

  9. says

    I must say, this is completely original. I had NO idea!!! There is a whole subculture out there of “shell artists and collectors” that I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for expanding my horizons. I think. :) I would definitely say the rooster is my favorite, though.

  10. says

    Oh my goodness you brought back some funny family memories. My dad was a truck driver, so he was gone, a lot. He traveled all over Texas and Louisiana and New Mexico and Colorado, hauling produce and Coke (coca cola, that is), and Pace picante sauce. All of our family vacations began in his truck, and we’d go visit family or some touristy place and get a hotel room for a few days, then go back home in the truck. Which was usually far more comfortable than going in a car, what with the sleeper in the back and all. Except that one time we all got food poisoning, but that’s another story.

    Anyway, my dad would bring us little trinkets back from some of his more interesting trips. But every single time he went into Louisiana, he brought my mom back some shell animals. I’m pretty sure she had almost the same cat creature thing, and some of the frogs. He also brought shell windchimes (I think my mom had six sets of shell windchimes at one point) and little shell sculptures and dead, shellacked starfish.

    I love that you’re sharing the collection with the family. I think most of my mom’s got “lost” over the course of their many moves. Which is too bad, because I would love to parcel those out to all the kids and start a new family tradition!


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