MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Sue Hobbs has made a career out of shells, and not the kind early-morning beach strollers find along the sand.
Hobbs, of West Cape May, sells all manner of exotic shells, from a Taiwanese deepwater slit shell the colors of sunset red and yellow to polished South African shells collected by divers in Cape Providence.
The owner of Sue Hobbs Specimen Shells, Hobbs had a large exhibit Sunday at the Jersey Cape Shell Club Show held at the Wetlands Institute on Stone Harbor Boulevard in Middle Township.
Having been in the business for 35 years, Hobbs is an expert on shells and remains captivated by their diversity.
Shell collectors can spend anywhere from a few dollars to several thousand a shell, Hobbs said. The brightly colored Taiwanese shell sells for $1,800.
Hobbs said her interest grew from trips to the seashore with her mother.
“My mom used to take my sister and me to the beach with field guides. We’d go down to the seashore, especially in the wintertime, and she wanted us to know what we were looking at — birds and plants and shells. And I got very interested in shells.”
She is not alone.
Interest in seashells can grow from any number of pursuits — scientific, artistic, or just curious, said Karen Lelli, president of the Jersey Cape Shell Club, which held its 38th annual show this weekend.
The club has about 80 members, some of whom make shells as Christmas ornaments or can artistically turn dozens of small shells into animal shapes such as dogs and frogs, she said.
For Lelli, of Vineland, she became fascinated with shells for their uses in artwork. She crafts bouquets of shells into arrangements that look like flowers in vases.
Regional shell artists brought their varieties of work to be judged at the show.
One of the styles growing in popularity is called a “Sailor’s Valentine,” a mosaic of shells arranged in an octagonal box displaying elaborate patterns, shapes and images such as mermaids. Legend has it that sailors fashioned the boxes during long trips to bring home to their sweethearts.
For some artists, shells are like paint.
“We have all of the artists who use them as their tools rather than pen and ink, they put together pictures and paintings and create these works of art using seashells,” Lelli said.
Lelli said people’s fascination with shells can go beyond using them in artwork or studying them for science. Sometimes it is as simple as admiring a unique shell one has never seen before, she said.
“I think people don’t realize just how many different kinds there are in the world,” she said. “When you’re a kid walking on the beach and find a conch, it’s like this is the best thing ever. But then you come to a show like this and see the variety of shells that can be found, it just opens up a whole new world.”
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