Friday, June 30, 2017

Seashells by the Seashore -- Finding Beauty in What's Broken

One of my latest felted jewelry collections, "Coral Reef"
with real coral, starfish, and conch shell as props

Jill Newman © 2017
This being my first blog post in a very long time, it may be a very long one...  with lots of deep thoughts and musings and other nonsense. I am looking forward to an upcoming beach vacation, which reminded me that I've had a lot to say about seashells.  My whole life, I have enjoyed walking along beaches and searching for beautiful shells. (This is not the best exercise as you have to walk slowly to spot the good shells. On the other hand, there's a lot of bending and crouching, so maybe it's good cross-training.) Anyway, I always looked for "perfect" shells and tossed back the ones with any knicks or holes -- or defects of any kind really.  

But something changed two years ago.  As a felting artist with a love for shells, I made some attempts to incorporate my "perfect" shells into felted wool jewelry.  (I will add photos of these efforts at the end of the post.)  I experienced some disappointing failed experiments.  Then I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that if the shells had holes, it would be easier to incorporate into my felting, as I could loop wool through the holes to create strong connections.  I briefly thought about trying to drill holes into my shells, and then I remembered all those imperfect shells I had discarded over the years.

Me showing my husband my haul of broken shells :-)
So, on our next beach vacation that summer, my search for shells was completely different  This time, I tossed back the perfect shells in search of well-worn shells with holes. And you know what, they had a beauty all their own.  I suddenly saw the worn holes and skeletal look of these shells as even more entrancing than their whole "perfect" cousins.  In fact, without shells breaking down and disintegrating under the pounding of the tides, we would not have sand -- the very essence of the beach.

I had some transcendent moments there on that beach.  It felt truly enlightening and uplifting to suddenly see the beauty and usefulness of things that I had previously viewed as "broken."  In how many other areas of my life have I dismissed or overlooked the value and beauty in things that were damaged or not whole?  Actually, I often save broken things in the hopes of making them into something new. Honestly, I had considered this a bit of a "hoarder" tendency, but now I see this as a virtue.   It can be very rewarding to give old things new life.  And it is a good attitude to have about life in general.  

My array of gorgeous and useful shells with holes
I am trying to apply these lessons to my own life.  I lost my husband to brain cancer a year ago, and I truly feel broken.  But I have hope that I can rebuild my life and find the beauty and strength in all of me, even the broken parts.

Ok, so enough deep thoughts:  here are the photos of my initial failed attempts to incorporate shells into my work and then my successes with the shells with holes.


These initial attempts failed for a few reasons.  For one thing, the sand dollar did not survive the wet felting process.  I crushed a few before giving up.  Second, and more importantly, although I could enclose the seashells in the felt, once I cut open a window to view the shells, they just fell out. No matter how small I cut the openings, the shells were not secured and found a way to escape.  By the way, after crushing all those sand dollars, I felted some wool ones that were far more durable.  

Once I had those shells with holes, the process of incorporating the shells into my work was much more satisfying and successful. Hopefully, you can see that I was able to form strong connections and points of attachment by threading the wool through the holes.  I was especially happy with the earrings and the clasp on the necklace.  I look forward to finding more holey shells this summer and exploring more creative ways to give them new life. 

Felted "Caribbean" collection -- necklace, earrings, and sand  dollar brooch.  Jill Newman © 2015.