During the Nineteenth Century, fictional heroines like Alice famously tumbled down rabbit holes and explored other worlds. However, exploration was not limited to characters in novels alone! Collecting seashells was a way for Victorian women to explore the natural world and engage in avenues of scientific inquiry. In fact, did you know the old rhyme “She Sells Seashells” was inspired by an early female scientist who combed the shore for prehistoric fossils?
Make a Cabinet of Curiosities
Pay homage to these early female explorers by creating your own aquatic-themed curiosity cabinet.
Like Victorian collections of curiosity assembled in cabinets, display cases featuring natural finds from around the world—taxidermy animals, assortments of insects, bones and other specimens—your collection could also display unique finds by the sea!
These cabinets are not only beautiful conversation starters but they also make for fantastic pieces of décor that could be ever evolving, depending on the pieces you continue to find for your display.
Turn your love of beach strolls into a fun hobby and décor project! Remember to defer to local beach laws about what is and is not permissible to take from the beach. Once you find a local where it is safe to remove items, start searching for seashells by locating areas along the shoreline that push debris the most—rocks, shells, seaweed—toward the beach. Wait for the tide to come in and then venture ankle deep in the water, picking up any stray shells that wash up. Also try reaching just beneath the sand for pebbles and shells that could be caught underfoot. Act quickly, as the current will soon pull these toward the deep.
Gather Your Finds!
Sea glass begins as unrecycled glass bottles worn down over years by the ocean to become beautiful and smooth pebbles. Some of the best times to collect sea glass are after the falling tide and a strong onshore wind. Pebble beds and rocky beaches produce some of the better finds.
Sand dollars are typically found in the northern hemisphere in temperate and tropical waters. The external skeleton that is shed by the creatures is what beachgoers search for. If you find a sand dollar covered in fur-like spines, the animal has not discarded this external shell and should not be removed from the beach. Sand dollars can best be found at low tide after a storm. To preserve the sand dollars soak them for fifteen minutes in a water/bleach solution. Once dry, paint them with a mixture of water and white glue to prevent the fragile sand dollars from breaking.
Decorate Your Cabinet
Weathered shelves can boast large seashells, starfish, and dried coral fans. Create a sense of wonder by including a myriad of objects from the tide brimming with a spectrum of colors.
Not all objects need to be in perfect condition or complete. Perfection is not a requisite for addition to a collection! In fact, the aged and broken shell pieces add a scavenged quality that Victorian explorers would have adored! Odds and ends only add to the unique quality of a curious collection.
Finally, do not hesitate to include framed art depicting sea life as well. Books on nautical subjects placed among the array of objects are likewise welcome! In other words, a curious collection should be brimming with a myriad of objects and mediums—specimens, literary texts, and artwork—to capture viewer interest. The wider assortment of objects implementing the aquatic theme, the better!