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Woke up to this sweet little composition from my art sister Lisa Guerin this morning! Thank you Alexander McQueen for the reindeer fashion inspiration. And, yes, the reindeer stamps are in and as you can see they are quite versatile and there are three sizes. Antlers are not just for reindeer anymore.
I am so excited to see what Character Constructions Design Team Artist Lisa Bruno has been up to. She has taken the new Christmas designs and brought them full circle! The new stamps arrive on Monday!
Yes, that reindeer that has been on my web site for the last two years is finally in production and is expected the first week in November! The good news is that I am giving you a couple different views, front & side, as well as a larger head. Thank You for your patience. It's not easy when you change manufacturers three times in the period of one year. But it's finally coming together.
Just stumbled across this alternate cover that was initially considered for The Artful Storybook. Lark Books did select my Queen of Tarts paper doll for the cover, albeit a different version. It was such an honor to be invited by Terry Taylor to submit work for consideration and to have my piece on the cover! Next year I will be featured in a new paper doll book by McFarland Publishers. I have dedicated sixteen years to the art of the paper doll, so it's lovely to be part of this academic book on the topic.
Dale and I have been home for almost a week, and while we love our home we sure do miss island life. We would begin our days early, just after sun up, dress quickly and traverse the sandy trails that lead to the beach. On the shore, we made our way south a couple of miles to the thatched-roof house, our breath synchronized to the sound of the waves washing ashore. Big breaths of salt-soaked air filling our lungs. Walking in stride with the shore birds digging for their breakfasts. We studied the surf for familiar shapes, and let go of everything else. We lived only in that moment. On our way back, tired and usually hungry, we would stop at a favorite spot along the beach for a lunch of fresh fish before returning to our room to rest and plan the remainder of our day.
This year we visited the CROW center for the first time, a place where local wildlife is rehabilitated and returned to the wild. It's sad to see what can happen when wildlife and men cross paths, but these folks are doing remarkable work and making a difference. We also added a visit to the Sanibel Library to our itinerary this year, after learning of the shell collection on exhibit. The collection was donated to the library and represents one woman's collection over a period of 40 years on the island, and it is spectacularly displayed in the windows at the entrance to the library. It was a little difficult to photograph, but I did manage to get a few decent pics:
Shell Collection at the Sanibel Library
Dale and I grew up in South Florida and met as teens during a summer job. We have been drawn back to Sanibel since my father introduced us to the island in 1974. As young parents, we began our own family tradition and returned each summer with our sons. There were times when we shelled alongside a stroller. Not an easy task, pushing a stroller through sand in that heat, and I asked Dale about it during one of our walks last week. Back then, he said he did it for me, but over time he has grown to love shelling too. And I believe our sons love the island and the memories we created there.
We have learned so much over the years about the island and the ins and outs of shelling it's beaches. The lighthouse beach is the place to go for wenteltraps. I knew they were there, but I never realized just how small they were. They are tiny and fragile, but you can usually find them in the wash near the lighthouse. One night after dinner at Gramma Dot's, I found a large one. On another night after dinner, a few of us from the artist retreat, Dale, Luis, Julie and I, ventured down to the lighthouse at sunset. It was low tide and there were quite a few shellers on the beach and they all had the same idea, wenteltraps. We did not find a wentelrap, but we did find plenty of other tiny shells, and before long we encountered bottlenosed dolphin fishing for their dinner off the shore. We later waded out onto the sandbars where we found an abundance of living shells and sea stars. Every day at the beach is different and you never know what you might discover. One morning, on our way back from shelling at a large shell pile 10 minutes from the Inn, Dale, Julie and myself were privy to a mating pair of manatees just feet from where we were standing. This ritual went on throughout the afternoon, much to the amazement of onlookers. Another morning while shelling, I encountered a fisherman who was excited to share with me a new turtle nest. The mother turtle had been seen off shore for a couple of days and the previous night she finally came ashore to make her nest.
A delicate little Angulate Wenteltrap found on Lighthouse Beach.
Luis, Catherine & Julie.
Sunset at Lighthouse Beach during low tide.
Last year, after we returned from Sanibel, I designed a couple of new collection boxes, and was so pleased with them that I decided to make one of them the subject of an artist retreat and workshop that was held this summer. It was my vision to share this island paradise and to create in a space on the edge of the earth, surrounded by sea, sand and sky, with other nature-minded souls. To rise with the sun each day, to shell and return to the studio to work simply with a few tools, paper and nontraditional materials such as shells, coconut fiber, gumbo limbo bark, surrounded by and inspired by the island's natural beauty. I was honored to have had this handful of artisans join me and share in my vision. And, Dale and I will be back again next year for another Sanibel Adventure!
Catherine's Collection box
Barefoot in our seaside studio.
Front to back and left to right, Shannon, Carol, Julie, and Rebecca.
No sooner did we say goodbye to our art friends, did son Ian arrive. We had not seen Ian, who is an NYU student, since last December and it was an emotional reunion for me. I was so happy for the opportunity to spend time with Ian and that special person in his life, Natalia. We took them biking, hiking and kayaking, and had some really extraordinary meals at Traditions on the Beach before they returned back to the city. I miss you two!
For the last couple of days of our visit, Dale and I were alone again. We awakened one morning to find that an entire bed of Giant Atlantic Cockle shells had washed ashore overnight. Every three feet or so, for nearly a mile, there was a matched set of cockles and hundreds of sea whips everywhere. I found two tiny little one-tooth simnia's attached to sea fans, and there were hundreds of pen shells many of which were housing live sea urchins. Due to some strong winds that we experienced coming from the west on the first few days of our visit, some of the larger shells that we generally find, eluded us. But we managed to find an alphabet cone, several Florida cones, the one-tooth simnias, a nice wenteltrap and even a piece of a Junonia on our last day. But it's as Anne Morrow Lindbergh has said in The Gift from the Sea, one cannot collect all the beautiful shells. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. We feel priviledged to have this longstanding history with Sanibel, and to have had the opportunity to be back on the island once again.
Thank you Dale for all of the many beautiful photos you took each day to memorialize our visit.
One of my treasured finds, a piece of heart shaped coral.
Shells we collected and displayed on a table outside of our room at Island Inn.
Catherine and Dale in island mode.
A couple of the many spectacular sunsets we enjoyed!
Dale was in Seattle on business last week and fortunately I was able to accompany him. As most of these work trips go for Dale, he works while I play. However, we arranged to stay for an extra day so that we could do a little exploring. With the help of Google maps, we spotted The San Juan Islands archipelago, made up of 172 islands, some of them no more than rocks, in the northwest corner of Washington state. To get there, we caught the 5:45 am Airporter out of downtown Seattle and travelled two and one-half hours by bus to arrive at Anacortes. From there we had just a few minutes to purchase tickets and board the the Washington state ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Our adventure unfolds . . .
Views from the ferry.
Early morning odyssey from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.
Sailboats floated lazily in the early morning light as we approached Friday Harbor.
In Friday Harbor, Dale and I, and the other eight members of our group, rendezvoused with our guide for the day, Orin from Outdoor Odysseys. From the harbor we travelled another 25 minutes to the west shore to launch our kayaks at San Juan County Park on the Haro Strait. This area is known to be visited by Orcas following the trail of chinook salmon. The period of time from late June through August is optimal for siting whales due to the high concentration of salmon. There are three resident pods in the San Juan Community, consisting of about 82 whales. These local orcas live on salmon, not mammals, eating about 200 pounds per day.
Here we are grouping our kayaks over a kelp bed, which is what you do when you see Orcas, to give the impression of one obstacle as multiple may be stressful. This was a trial run should they come upon us unexpectedly.
I like the idea of happening upon the Orcas naturally, but it was disturbing to see so many powerful motor boats loaded with people, roaring through the Haro Strait in hot pursuit tracking them with sonar. I felt more than a little sorry for the Orcas, but I suppose even this is better than being captured and living out their lives in aquariums.
Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse.
Once in the water, we paddled close to the shore, in the intertidal area, where the water was relatively shallow, and crystal clear. Our guide was adept at locating marine life for us to experience. We saw many sea urchins on the ocean floor beneath us, a Sunflower Seastar, the largest seastar in the world with a massive armspan of up to 3.3 feet, and a beautiful Lion's Mane Jellyfish, as well as blue and orange starfish clinging to the rocks above the tide line We paddled through lush beds of bull kelp that we learned could be 100 feet deep and 100 feet wide. It was so dense in some areas that we got ourselves tangled in it briefly. In the water the kelp was sinuous and fluid and plant-like, but washed up on the beach it had a disturbing sea monster quality to it. As we paddled on, we came upon bespeckled harbor seal pups sunning themselves on rocks along the shore, as well as blissfully swimming and munching in the kelp beds.
And, I finally had the opportunity to see the mythical Pacific Northwest Madrone trees that my friend Linn had told me so much about. They have striking red bark making them immediately identifiable as they twist and writhe along the shore to catch the sun's rays.
View across Haro Strait, we are but 9 miles from Victoria, B.C.
After paddling for a couple hours we landed on the beach in Dead Man's Bay and while Orin prepared our picnic, we had time for some on-shore explorations.
I was eager to explore shelling on the island and found these rocks covered with live specimens. Both the water tempature and the rocky shoreline made shelling more of a challenge than we are accustomed to but we came home with a few shells and rocks for our collections.
The water temperature was around 45 degrees, a bit cooler than we are accustomed to but it actually felt good.
There were hundreds of snail inhabited shells, large and small. I thought I was going to take one of these pretty white univalves home with me, but later discovered a little crab had taken up residence. I did manage to find a couple small shells that were uninhabited though.
One of many the tidal pools that were brimming with small fish, crabs, live shells, and a tiny black eel. I loved the kayaking and being out on the water, but having the opportunity to explore this unique landscape and the tidal pools was my favorite part of the day.
This shoreline was covered with large scale driftwood that had been collected and arranged over a period of time. The wood was in varying sizes, shapes, colors and textures developed by exposure to sea and sun, and was beautiful. Orin laid out our picnic for us among the driftwood.
The name of our one-day kayaking tour was Orcas and Eagles because there is a large number of Bald Eagles residing in the San Juan islands, and we were visited by these majestic creatures throughout our day as they flew from the trees along the shore and glided over the ocean on their fishing expeditions.
On our way back to the launch, Orin took a few photos for us. As you can see it was crystal clear, the perfect day to be out on the water. Our brief whale siting came unexpectedly late (when we were more than a little tired), with the camera stowed in the dry bag, but it was no less exciting. It just means we have to come back again (soon I hope)!
After a full day of kayaking, we had a delicious dinner at the Cask and Schooner and were back at The Bird Rock Hotel and in bed by 9:30 pm so we could catch the 5:45 am ferry back to Anacortes. We had timed this trip down to the minutes and as luck would have it the ferry, which everyone says is never late, was delayed by a work barge blocking entry into the dock in Anacortes. Yes, we missed our airport shuttle. The next one was an hour later and would put us at the airport a mere 20 minutes prior to departure. We somehow managed to get through security and boarded on time. That was a close call, but we knew a lot of things had to fall into place for this adventure to happen and it was worth every minute.
As we flew out of the Sea-Tac airport, Dale managed to get a great shot of Mt. Ranier with his phone camera. The perfect note to end a spectacular adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
I few years ago, I discovered the book, The Rarest of the Rare, Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. As an artist and a collector myself, I was drawn to the book visually. I am still working my way through the stories. If it wasn't for this book, I would never have known about this museum, but shortly after purchasing it I found myself in Boston. Unlike the Museums of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and NYC, I have visited, which feel more like amusement parks, this museum is a quiet oasis in an enduring building on the Harvard Campus that houses priceless found treasures of the past. I arrived early and for nearly two hours roamed almost completely alone among the collections. I found artifacts displayed, labeled and tagged with names, dates, sources handwritten in black ink, and arranged in antique wood storage boxes. It is not only the collections to which I am drawn, but this system.
After our visit to Sanibel Island this year, I spent a good bit of time cataloging our shells.
I am currently organizing a workshop retreat for May of 2014 and we will be creating a collection box out of a artist sketch box. The idea is to give the box some character and make it look like something that you might find at the NMNH. I hope to share some photos of that soon. But as I was working on this box today, I started thinking about my Harvard photos and wanted to share them. Bear in mind they were taken with my phone so the quality could be better.
If you find yourself in Boston you will want to make some room in your itinerary for a visit. Otherwise, you might like to check out the book.
When we cross the bridge from Ft. Myers to Sanibel Island, we leave our cares behind and we never cross that bridge again until it's time to leave. Time on the island is too precious and it comes but once each year. On one of our many visits, we discovered Radhika Miller's Sunlet Reverie and that has become our Sanibel anthem and we like to play it each time we cross the bridge. Miller's whimsical flute embodies the lightness and the joy we feel living in the moment, enjoying a slower pace and shelling.
We returned in time for a sunset stroll at low tide. We discovered an abundance of large live horse conchs in the tidal pools, and many other live specimens.
There were more grandaddy horse conchs than we could count. We introduced ourselves and placed them gently back into the tidal pool, out of harms way. Live shelling is illegal and truly there is no reason you would need to destroy living creatures for their shells, as there is such an abundance of shells on Sanibel. On our first day of shelling, we found an inordinate number of pristine tulip shells that clearly had not spent much time tumbling in the surf.
An Atlantic giant cockle offered us a big smile.
The sun sank ever so quietly below the horizon, setting the pace for the days ahead. And, each subsequent day we watched the sunset before returning to our pied-à-terre. There is a sort of after glow that continues for about another thirty minutes and it was always peaceful sitting on our balcony and watching the light fade to black. The temps were mild on this visit, with delicate breezes sweeping accross the sand. Breezes that made it possible for us to be out later without fear of encountering no see'ems, and the milder temps enabled us to keep our air conditioning off much of the time so that we could enjoy the seaview from our room and listen to the sounds of the surf.
Our gulf view balcony at the West Wind Inn.
On day two we did something a little different, in that we left our West Gulf beach and went shelling along the East Gulf lighthouse beach. We heard that the illusive wentletraps could be found there. Wenteltraps are quite small, no longer than 1", and fragile. In all the years we have shelled on Sanibel, we had not found a single one. Knowing where to look and that they were tiny, made it possible to find four! There are all sorts of contraptions for shelling, but we have had the most success with this new one that we found at the surf shop, the sand dipper. Dale took this video with his phone one morning while shelling during a receding tide.
This video demonstrates ideal shelling conditions. The shells have been loosened by the receding tide, and visibility is good because the surf is relatively calm. But, even when visibility is poor, you can scoop shells and find all manner of tiny shells which would have been very difficult to find otherwise.
On another day, I used my dipper to blindly scoop shells from the receding surf at Blind Pass (below), and discovered a one-tooth simnia (family ovulidae). Generally, you would find them attached to sea whips washed up on the beach at the high tide line. The postcard below is a great aerial view of Blind Pass. On the Sanibel side (foreground) you can shell along the shore or on the sandbars when the tide is out. On the Captiva side of the pass, there is a jetty where people like to dig in a huge pile of shells. Personally, I prefer to sift through the shells in the surf. Low tides here can reveal Junonia's and other rare shells. There can be a very strong current at times, so take care if you plan to shell here.
High tides are not the best time for shelling, so if you are planning a visit and you want to shell, refer to a tide chart before setting a date. There is something called a negative tide that is the best time to shell, though if you plan to go well offshore you might want to have a kayak or canoe just in case. But just about any low tide will yield some very nice finds.
My favorite spot was at the water's edge (just in front of Dale), sifting in the surf which was really raucous the day I took this photo, an extreme shelling experience. Dale's shoe held our shell finds.
The beach at Blind Pass on the Sanibel side, it was high tide.
Later in the week we were joined by my grandfather, who still lives in Miami, and son Adam who was visiting from New Jersey.
We had a great lunch at Gramma Dot's in the Sanibel Marina. There are so many really good choices there. The fried oyster sandwich is one of the house favorites, and now that I have had one I understand why. But, the key lime pie is really the best I've had since moving to Georgia.
Gramma Dot's is an open air restaurant and the weather was just perfect for it during our visit in early May! Pap is an old Navy diver, stationed in the Florida Keys and Cuba back in the day. We thought he might enjoy the marina atmosphere here.
Later that evening, as the sun was setting, we decided to drive over to Captiva for dinner at the Captiva Cantina. This is a very rustic dining establishment, but you cannot beat their fresh fish and shrimp tacos. We love their plantains too! On the way over, while driving on the Sanibel-Captiva road, I saw this big gator slip out of the preserve and flee across the highway to the fire station parking lot. The guys saw this as a photo opportunity, but I only consented to stop once they promised not to get out of the car. Gators can move very quickly. The police were dispatched to remove gator, but by then we were tucking into our guacamole appetizer.
The following afternoon we decided to have a picnic on Tarpon Bay before our sunset cruise and wildlife tour. We stopped by Bailey's and picked up some freshly made deli sandwiches and a nice bottle of wine, and under the shade of an ancient ficus tree we feasted. I don't recommend this location after sunset as the no see'ems are really bad here. In fact, after the cruise you're going to want to run to your car!
You can rent canoes and explore, or take any number of tours. We had taken this sunset cruise previously and thought Pap would enjoy it. That pontoon boat in the background right is the one that takes you on a leisurely cruise around the bay where you can see exotic birds nesting on small islands, grazing manatees and pods of dolphins feeding.
The following day we took a much different kind of boat cruise on the Sanibel Thriller! Hold on to your hat and sunglasses . . .
For reasons no one has adequately explained, these Bottlenose Dolphins seem to love surfing in the boat wake. The Thriller attracked two pods of about eight or ten dolphins which followed us quite a ways.
It wasn't easy saying goodbye to Pap and Adam. Hope you can join us the same time next year guys!
Dale and I have been visiting Sanibel since we were in our twenties, and we could always count on an afternoon storm brought on by the heat of the day. But with temps being so mild this week, there had not been a single storm until our last day.
Earlier that day:
Here are some of my Shelling Tips:
1. Familiarize yourself with a tide chart and plan to be out on the beach before low tide. My favorite time is about two hours before the low tide, and I like to take a long walk on the West Gulf beach beyond the West Wind Inn, then I shell it both ways because new treasure keep revealing itself.
2. Know what types of shells are available and familiarize yourself with them so you know what to look for. Florida's Seashells, A Beachcomber's Guide, is my favorite shell identification guide. It has large clear photos and useful information. There are hundreds of varieties on the island.
3. A scooping tool of some sort is helpful. My favorite new tool is the Sand Dipper Jr. On Sanibel Island you will find them at the surf shop in the Bailey's Shopping Center. They have many other varieties as well if you prefer.
4. You need a shell bag, one with drainage preferrably. I have a new one that has two compartments, including one for tiny or delicate shells, as well as an adjustable shoulder strap. Wearing it over your shoulder will keep your hands free.
5. Sunglasses and visor, depending on the time of day. I always see better with the sun at my back.
6. Flip flops or beach shoes to protect your feet.
7. Give yourself plenty of time, 2 or 3 days is good, but a week is better. You might also try one of the shelling tours that are offered on the island. Be sure that it's low tide when you take your tour for best results.
A few pics of the shells we found:
The large bivalves on the outer ring are Atlantic Giant Cockles. There are an abundance of them from juvenille to 5 inches. The univalves in the outside ring are juveille Fighting Conchs, and these are also quite abundant. On the right side in the second ring you will see some Tulip shells. These are generally less abundant, though we found quite a few on this visit. I love pectin shells, brightly colored scallops. I didn't find as many on this visit.
I made a shell specimen box before I left for Sanibel, using my She Sells Seashells collection of stamps.
This box has some less plentiful shells, such as a lightening welk, Florida worm snail, Shark's Eye or Moon Snail, Murex, Alphabet Cones, Florida Cones, Paper Fig, Sharp Ribbed Drills, Round Rib Scallop (upper valve), Cayenne Keyhole Limpet, and those tiny Wenteltraps.
There are a number of shells shops on the island, including She Sells Seashells. That one inspired the title of my stamp collection She Sells Seashells, but my favorite is Sanibel Seashell Industries, which I regret did not appear on my radar until the last couple of years. This shop is more like a natural history museum and less like a kitchy tourist souvenir shop. I highly recommend it! It's a family run business and they are very friendly and can answer absolutely any question you have about local shells and world shells, and even give you some shelling tips. We always take home a few specimens to complete our collections and they had some shells from a recently acquired collection, that of a very old woman who had shelled the island her entire life. I was happy to add a few of her lovely shells to my collection.
A sea creature that someone created with pen shells. I have never seen so many Stiff penshells! When we arrived the beach was thick with them and they are not particularly nice to look at and you really don't want to step on them, ouch!
If you have any questions, e-mail me at: CharacterConstructions@gmail.com