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Special Exhibitions

Adorned by the Sea: Shells in Fashion 

6.25.22 - 11.28.22

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Throughout time and around the world, shells have been used to elevate and adorn. From ancient cultures to contemporary runway couture, using shells as decorative motifs, carving them into ornamental shapes, and even attaching them in their natural form has transformed ordinary textiles into extraordinary garments. Shells have been used to represent value, nature, and even faith. Adorned by the Sea: Shells in Fashion examines the diverse uses of sea shells and mollusks to enhance our appearance and dress.
From the most expensive purple dyes made with snails to the most conceptual catwalk fantasies made of razor clams and mussels, with works spanning centuries and including a wide variety of designers from unnamed indigenous artists to Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, and Gucci, Adorned by the Sea offers a complete overview of how we have amplified our own image by borrowing from the wonders of marine life.

Made possible by a grant from the Cornelia T. Bailey Foundation and a gift from Mark and Kathy Helge.
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Mollusk Hospital: A Shell Folk Art Journey in 20 Rooms 

6.25.22 - 11.28.22

Art, science, and whimsy come together in a remarkable creation by Anne Joffe, renowned shell collector and leader in national and international communities of conchology. Mollusk Hospital is a group of 20 imaginative, miniature hospital rooms – from nursery to radiology to surgery to recovery – in which hundreds of shells are the patients. 

Through a progression of re-created hospital environments – each approximately two feet square – visitors learn how mollusks (the animals that make shells) can become injured and the ingenious methods by which they protect and heal themselves. Camouflage, shell regeneration, and threats from natural predators and human activities are just some of the subjects illuminated through this engaging and visually compelling. 

Debuted by Joffe in larger format at the 2016 Sanibel Shell Show, Mollusk Hospital became a sensation in shell enthusiast circles for its combination of artistic charmand educational merit. This selection of 20 rooms on view at the National Shell Museum represents the first museum exhibition of this delightful and revealing work of shell folk art and craft.

Sponsored by Mark and Kathy Helge.

Blackwater Moments:
Nocturnal Photography of Open-Ocean Mollusks

12.10.21 - 10.15.22

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In the open ocean at night, many animals move up from deeper water to feed. Divers and underwater photographers Linda Ianniello and Susan Mears take this opportunity to capture remarkable images of marine life swimming at night by practicing the adventuresome, emerging art form of blackwater photography. 

The unusual, elegant, nocturnal images featured in this exhibition were taken by Linda and Susan in the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately five miles off the East Coast of Florida and at depths of between fifty and one hundred feet. These excursions, known as blackwater dives, carry divers along the Gulf Stream for a distance of up to seven miles during a 90-minute dive, providing amazing opportunities to photograph animals as they emerge from the depths and move through the Gulf Stream. 

Blackwater Moments features some 30 photographs by Linda and Susan, with a focus on pictures they have made of open-ocean mollusks. Species represented include the Blanket Octopus, Argonauts, Sea Butterflies, and others. The exhibition also includes a section about blackwater diving and the daring methods that produce these beautiful images.  

Linda and Susan have co-authored the book Blackwater Creatures – A Guide to Southeast Florida Blackwater Diving, which chronicles highlights of over 500 blackwater expeditions. On March 15, 2022, Linda will give an Artist Talk at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to discuss the exhibition and their work. 

Blackwater Moments is organized by Dr. José H. Leal, Science Director and Curator at the National Shell Museum. 

This exhibition is made possible by a gift from Linda Kramer. 
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