My introduction to Sailors’ Valentines came about when I visited the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island in 1996 shortly after the museum opened. I stood before the exhibit for a long time, intrigued and mesmerized. I went on to other exhibits but kept circling back to the Sailors’ Valentines, marveling at the intricacy of the shell work and the extraordinary breadth of the shells’ shapes, textures, and colors. They were quite unlike anything I had ever seen. I knew then that one day I would make one myself.
A full-time job and raising children kept me busy for a few years, but in 2001 I was ready to get started. At that time there was very little information on the subject and only a handful of people making them. One of those people was Sandi Blanda, and I called Sandi to ask for guidance. She generously shared some of her considerable knowledge, and she also directed me to Sanibel Seashell Industries, owned and operated to this day by Larry Strange and his family. They shipped me everything I needed, and so I spread out my materials and all my shells on my dining room table and began. In March of 2002 I entered three pieces in the Sanibel Shell Show, and by that summer I had work in galleries in Newport, Rhode Island, and on Cape Cod and Nantucket, Massachusetts.
In addition to making Sailors’ Valentines, my husband and I have restored many pieces from the 1800s from the collections of people in both the United States and Barbados. This process has led me to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for this awe-inspiring art form.
In 2011 I became a full-time resident of Sanibel Island after having vacationed there for almost 35 years. Today, I volunteer as a docent at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. I love that I have come full circle to the place where I discovered what is now such an integral part of who I am and what I love.