Thursday, March 4, 2010

THE SHELL DRAWER

"I have the world's largest collection of seashells. I keep it on the beaches of the world...perhaps you have seen it."
Stephen Wright



I live in Michigan where we are famous for our mitten of land surrounded by the beautiful Great Lakes which can be seen from outer space. The state is filled with hundreds of bodies of water from tiny ponds to sizable inland lakes. Fresh water is a fabulous resource but it is not home to the creatures and plants that I gathered together for this drawing. For me they are wonderfully exotic and mysterious.

The preserved fish in the center of the drawing is a puffer fish from the family Tetradontidae. When alive it was one of the second most poisonous animals in the world. Despite that, when prepared properly, the meat of the fish is considered a great delicacy in Japan and Korea.

The fan coral belongs to the order Gorgonacea. It is a colony of many individual polyps that began with a single founder. They anchor themselves with a long root in sand or mud, at right angles to strong currents that bring them the plankton they consume during the night.
Both the coral and the puffer fish are from the collections at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum.

The sea urchin, in the class Echinoidea, sits in front of the puffer fish. Its name comes from an old name for the spiny hedgehog. It is a spherical invertebrate with 5 part symmetry, covered with spines that act as protection and help with locomotion. The skin is a hard shell called a "test". The mouth, known as Aristotle's lantern, is on the underside and has 5 teeth.
Its main diet is algae and it is eaten by sea otters and wolf eels, among others, and the ovaries are considered a delicacy by humans.

The coral and the sea urchin might be confused with plants but they are animals. The only plant in the drawing is a piece of kelp I found on the beach in Massachusetts.

The many armed sunflower starfish, Pycnopodia helianthoides, on the far left, is a fast moving predator. The juveniles begin with 5 arms and keep adding more as they grow until as an adult they might have as many as 24 arms. The specimen I own was given to me as a present by Bill Close, another person in love with the world and its contents.

The objects that are less natural but still belong with the sea are 3 spoons and a cameo.


The largest spoon and the cameo came from my favorite antique store, Balcony Row in Holly, Michigan. Jim Hilty and Evelyn Raskin have created a combination store / museum that certainly speaks to cabinets of curiosities. Their interest in their inventory has the quality of genuine intellectual excitement. They have rescued so many architectural artifacts that even the structure of their building abounds in stories. Knowing people with such energy and integrity has been a pleasure.

The spoon has no markings but it feels to me like Florida with its carved wooden alligator handle and the bowl made from a shell carved simply and elegantly into the head of a native American. It might well have been made as a tourist item but it has for me enormous charm that lifts it above the trinket level.


The little shell spoon was made of 2 shells in 1907. I "repaired" it for the drawing. In real life there is a bit missing from the bowl of the spoon. Regardless of its condition it delights me to think of someone creating this souvenir. The tiny spoon is part of a pair of salt servers that were given to me by Henrietta Slote. Now that so many kinds of salt are available that you would not want to put into shakers, these little spoons are once again truly useful. My favorite is a salt made from pink Himalayan fossils. What could be more appropriate to serve with dinner in a room of curiosities?

1 comment:

  1. Hello Karen! I never saw a shell spoon. Beautiful painting!

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