Whilst Liz and Sue were with us we made two trips to the beach at Pointe de Saire. This is a headland of rock platform and outcrop, pools and intertidal channels, where shells are washed in to accumulate as strandlines at various horizons down the beach to the water-line, as shelly banks and as ‘beach pockets’. (This term goes back to 1898 when the Irish naturalist, Robert Welch, used the word to describe little hollows of shell accumulation in sand dunes on a North Antrim beach.)
We spent a happy hour or so combing the beach for shells and other objets trouvés and we collected some shelly sand for the tiny shells. There were plenty of clams, winkles, limpets and oyster shells lying around. You had to search more diligently for cowries, painted top shells and wentletraps. We found about six of the latter over the two visits.
Sue had noticed the framed shell collage that I made in my salad days, and which hangs in the guest’s bathroom at St V. It features on the Shellcraft page of the Conch Society’s website. Pictures like this are really are not difficult to craft. You need a piece of black felt or velvet secured around a stout piece of card, cut to a size you want to work with. As a general rule the smaller the shells you are going to work with then the smaller your finished picture will be.
You need a few sheets of paper and a general purpose glue like UHU. The shapes and colours of the shells themselves suggest the flowers they would like to become. To make the round multi-petalled flowers you select a group of bivalve shells (tellins, small white Spisula clams, tiny scallops) within a size range and start by gluing between 4 and 8 of the largest in a rosette directly onto the paper. Once dry, you can add the next circlet of shells and so on until you have a petalled ‘bloom’. When the flower is dry you cut the flower from the paper and trim away any bits that would show, leaving a small basal tab to glue and stick to the backing. All the other flowers can be assembled directly onto the background, with thin strips of white paper cut to size as stems.
Unless you have a very clear idea of the arrangement you are going to create it is wise to lay out the flowers and stems on the background and juggle until you are happy with the effect. You should also have selected the shell which will be the ‘vase’. Queen scallop shells are suitable because they are flat and elegant. Then you can start to fix the flowers in place. You only need the smallest amounts of glue and care is needed not to end up with unwanted glue strings trailing across the fabric. You can add finishing touches such as butterflies (Donax surf clams) and a bumble bee or two (yellow and black striped rough winkles).
Searching for shells is rarely unrewarding and you always hope for a rarity or two. Like wentletraps. These deserve a post of their own.