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Sea Shells For DecorationBy Dr. A. Gordon Melvin
( Orginally published November 1961 )
The Japanese, perhaps the most beauty-sensitive of all peoples, customarily set aside in a room, a corner or clear space, to display some work of art or object of natural beauty.
The background space areas of modern architecture suggest a similar treatment for American homes. An excellent decorative effect may be secured by an arrangement of sea shells. A single colorful shell from distant seas may provide adequate interest, or any group of shells set up for contrasting form and color.
Unlike flowers, which fade all too soon, sea shells remain as a relatively permanent d-coration. So they are finding increasing favor with both amateur and professional decorators. This trend is furthered by color photographs, in favorite home magazines, of sea shells used in table and shelf decoration.
I know one friend who has five or six carefully chosen shells in a round glass tray or bowl, used as a centerpiece on his rather grand dining table. Another collector had my wife design for him a shelf for about 25 specially chosen shells.
She designed it in three half-moon mirrors, each larger than the other toward the bottom, and separated by clear plastic pillars. It now adorns his mansion on the Hudson, the shells reflecting their beauty down deep in a well of light.
A week seldom passes in which an inquiry does not come concerning some aspect of the use of shells in home beautification. Such inquiries are very difficult to answer, and up to now there is no book or any long treatment of this complex subject. These few paragraphs can barely open up the matter but still may be useful.
The photograph on this page shows how simply such a decoration can be made. It is composed of four beautiful, but very different shells. The back-piece is a split nautilus standing on a Chinese teakwood rack. The spiny shell to the left is a Giant Venus Comb (Murex trosch.elli, the large shell a Branched Murex (Murex raznosus). The small smooth shell is a pure white Egg Shell (Ovula ovum) which gives the perfect contrast in form.
But this grouping is a mere example. It seems to me a little more possible to prescribe an arrangement of shells than it is to give direction for a bouquet of flowers.
Each person may choose and group his own shells. With 10 or 12 carefully selected ones it is possible to arrange quite a series of "bouquets."
They make magnificent window decorations in store or home. They may be set up in cabinets or on shelves, and inay be changed or added to for pleasing effect.
A shiny surface, a mirror base, or a shallow glass or pottery bowl all provide good background.
The all-time favorite, the Chambered Nautilus, can be set up as a vase with four tiny shells like "button shells" cemented on as a stand. The whole shell may be attractively flanked by the two halves of a split shell, showing the inner chambers.
Color is best introduced by an orange set beside a purple Japanese Scallop (Pecten nobilis). The redmouthed Cameo Shell (Cassis rufa) from East Africa is an inexpensive shell which gives a spot of color in a specimen of fair size.
A large, fine shell to center a group and also be used for flowers, on occasion, is a Melon Shell; or a large Imperial Volute (Voluta imperialis); or the unusual Angled Volute (Voluba angulata) from Uruguay. Famous and unique is the Trumpet Shell (Charowia tritonis) often from Fiji.
Among the general favorites, admired for form or color are the large scallops (Pecten magellanicus and Pecten yessoensis), the superbly formed Wonder Shell (Thatcheria mirabilis), and the black and white Marble Cone (Conus marmoreus). A number of the less expensive shells are the Tiger Cowry (Cypraea tigris), the Mourning Cowry (Cypraea mauritiana), and the Blue Abalone (Haliotis fulgens) which is like a bowl of iridescent blue and green.
Those who can afford distinction and who, in course of time, care to add a piece de resistance nlay well look forward to owning one of those aristocratic shells like The Emperor's Top (Pleurotomaria hirasei) or the Gollden Volute (Voluta aulica).