65 - Seashells


My mother was a keen hobbyist, a craftsperson. She should have been a professional but shied away from that. Somehow, being a ‘professional’ didn’t seem like the right thing to do, especially when it related to things like handmade art. I don’t know why some women are that way but they are, and I am too to some extent.

My mother had any number of hobbies over time. She would catch a fever for doing some particular craft. I remember seashell jewelry. These items were made from tiny, little white shells from Florida dyed pink and green and yellow, even purple – you name it. Their chalky white surfaces took well to pastel dyes. Clear plastic circles and ovals were used as a backing whereon these tiny seashells were glued. Clear cement for gluing the shells had recently become available to general hobbyists back in the 50s, beyond their more specialized use for gluing model airplane parts together.

Using tiny tools and toothpicks and things Mother would meticulously torture and manipulate these little coloured shells into various designs, often as rose petals. The flowers could be large, taking up the whole backing, or smaller, forming a bouquet of variously-coloured blooms.

This was an ephemeral art, because fragile. I was just on eBay seeking out old-time shell jewelry and there were a few good examples there. Bidding for them was fairly fierce. I was outbid twice on one shell jewelry collection I had my eyes on. Oh well, I didn’t really need them. It was just for the memory’s sake. There’s something about being on eBay and rummaging in the western world’s attic that is curiously addictive. Any hobby or craft from time gone by is out there, hanging on by a thread. Collectors are a special breed and will traverse all obstacles in search of the desired item.

Another phrase for collector is pack rat.

My mother would spend hours making shell jewelry brooches. I’m not sure that she wore them much. The excitement was in the making of them, pulling all the bits together to create a beautiful, artificial bouquet. It was a ‘conversation piece’. My sister has told me that she had the unjoyful task of peddling mother’s shell jewelry, door to door, to the folks in the Sprucedale subdivision suburb.

The shell jewelry phase passed, making way for another fever. Some of these fads lasted longer than others. She took up oil painting. Our family friend, Moyna, would drive us out into the country in search of a good scene. We kids would play around in the fields or, as often was the case, in an ancient country graveyard where the tombstones made a good place to perch while eating a picnic sandwich.

My mother would sit on her artist’s stool with her easel in front of her and paint. She painted a fair number of trees, trees were good. She had talent. A professional artist once complimented her work as being neat by which he meant well-composed and thought out, tidy and well-balanced. She was very careful about her compositions. It gave her work a sort of mannered style, but it was art. She ran out of storage space for her canvasses and the less-favoured ones were stacked up on a high shelf in the garage in back of the house. The better ones hung on our walls, of course, or were given away as gifts but they were never sold.

In her later years she got into pottery, making pots and bowls and plates and mugs, all kinds of things from clay and, again, she was very, very good at it. She had been persuaded to initial her works at this point by someone she had taken a course from. There are pieces of pottery all over southern Ontario bearing the initial P.F., for Phyllis Fricker, on their bottoms. They will be around long after most of us are gone because pottery is rather durable. She worked with glazes and had a kiln and wheel to do her pots on. Again, she refused the title of professional.

She wove. She was a weaver and made articles of clothing and rugs and placemats and hangings. Her colour sense was a bit primary. She liked orange and red. I think it was part of the palette of the 50s. Different eras have different palettes. She had a beautiful four harness loom and other looms. A whole room upstairs devoted to wool.

Apparently there is some wool packed up in my sister’s basement which I am supposed to take sometime because – Guess what? – I’m a hobbyist too and a craftsperson. My own fever, at present, is for something called ATCs – Artist Trading cards.

Shell Pin

These are little 2" by 3 ” pieces of cardstock decorated with a montage of vintage photos, ephemera, postage stamps, lace and other bit and pieces. They can also be stamped with rubber stamps. They are to art what sampling is to music. Some of them are hand drawn or painted or digitized but, for the most part, they are accumulations of bits until the whole is greater than the parts. Not unlike, in some ways, my mother’s seashell jewelry.


Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2008

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