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Shellin’ with Paula

By Paula Deen

Y’all know that I love cookin’, but that creativity in the kitchen has spilled over. I love to paint and craft, and as of a few years ago, I’ve I think I’ve mentioned in the past one of my favorite hobbies: shellin’!

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.

Shellin' with Paula

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. I’ve done picture mirrors, busts, frames, the handles on serving utensils—you name it, I’ve shelled it, y’all!

Shellin' with Paula

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.

Shellin' with Paula 

Want to try your hand at shelling? Paula typically orders her shells online and gets a lot of her artwork to shell (busts, frames, etc.) from junkin’ or going to antique stores and flea markets. To adhere the shells, use liquid nails, silicone glue, or hot glue, depending on the size of the shell.

Paula Deen - As a young girl growing up in Albany, Georgia, Paula Deen never dreamed she would become an American icon. As a young mother, Paula was living the American dream — married to her high school sweetheart and raising two adorable boys — when tragedy struck. Her parents died, her marriage failed and she began a prolonged battle with agoraphobia. With her boys in their teens and her family near homelessness, Paula took her last $200, reached deep inside her soul and started The Bag Lady, a home-based catering company that marked the start of Deen's professional cooking career. With sons Jamie and Bobby delivering lunch-and-love-in-a-bag, beginning in June 1989, Paula turned her life around by sharing what she knew best, traditional Southern cooking.