As if I need something else to do. I already have so much on my plate between the show, the magazine, my books, this here website and a little thing called “family”—that I’m not looking to squeeze in one more thing. But sometimes something comes along and hits you right upside the head, and you think, “I might could do that.”
It started with a bivalve. Thousands of ‘em, actually. I got wind about this artist, Cathy Jarman, who works with shells, creating these wonderful, decorative designs on walls, mantles, chandeliers and even busts. Oprah’s magazine had done a piece on Cathy a few years back and that’s when I discovered that the artist was born and raised in Savannah and still lives here today, I just had to have her design a piece for my home.
Considering how much of my life is spent on the water here in Savannah, the fit was just too perfect. I commissioned Cathy to make two gaslight torches for my patio. But that wasn’t the end of it. In fact, it was just the beginning. As I watched her work, I was so fascinated by how she carefully placed all those little shells, colorful pieces of seaglass and tiny starfish just so, transforming something so average looking into a real work of art. I got a little obsessed as I sometimes do. We featured some of Cathy’s stunning shell art in my book, Paula Deen’s Savannah Style, and all the while I kept looking for more and more pieces to include in my home. But the time and skill that goes into creatin’ these beauties comes at a high price, and I couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged knowing that I couldn’t put a piece in every room. So I up and decided, “Hey, I can do that, too!” Course, I knew I couldn’t—not without some help anyway. So I went straight to the source: I called up Cathy and asked if she would teach me. She was kind enough to agree and I haven’t stopped shelling since.
Some of my pieces that I’m most proud of include busts that I’ve shelled for my assistant, Brandon, my hair stylist, Jamie, and my makeup artist, Courtney. I’ve also shelled a mirror for my niece, Corrie, and another one to go above my fireplace at home. I’ve done picture frames, the handles on serving utensils—you name it, I’ve shelled it, y’all!
Since learning this art, I’ve even made a shelling station in my home where I can work when I find the time. It’s really relaxing for me to be able to sit down, shell for a bit, and then put everything down and continue about my day. It’s kind of like piecing together a puzzle, but I’m the one doing the creatin’ and the finished product is so much more beautiful. There’s a little bit of mystery involved, too. I never really know what a piece is going to look like until it’s finished. I leave it up to the shells—they tell their own story as I glue each one down. Creation is a special gift, especially when you share it with someone else. When I give someone something I’ve shelled, they are touched by the gesture and surprised that I did it myself. Both these things make shelling a real work of art.
Want to try your hand at shelling? I typically order my shells online, and get a lot of her pre-shelled artwork (busts, frames etc.) from junkin’, or going to antique stores and flea markets. To adhere the shells, I use liquid nails, silicone glue and hot glue, depending on the size of the shell.