Seashells Through Time

Admired for their varied colors, intricate morphology, and mysterious inhabitants, seashells have long fascinated natural historians, artists, and, more recently, biologists and ecologists. Shells are more durable than other patterned organisms, such as sponges or flowers, and have been appreciated as independent sculptural forms and incorporated into the visual arts. This installation presents works from seventeenth-century Europe alongside a group of twentieth-century photographs to consider the enduring allure of seashells.

Sebastian Stoskopff’s Still Life illustrates the role of shells as exotic collectors’ items, as well as their function as reminders to place spiritual aims above physical goods. The album Hollar’s Shells by Wenceslaus Hollar most likely was based on his observations of seashells from a seventeenth-century Dutch curiosity cabinet—a type of collection in Early Modern Europe that combined natural materials with works of art and was an important predecessor of modern-day museums. Van de Passe’s etchings of Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet and the personification of the element Aqua demonstrate the rich symbolism of shells and their inherent connection with the sea. Shells appear as monumental and mesmerizing shapes in the photographs of Edward Weston, whose dye transfer print of a halved nautilus shell highlights its logarithmic spiral, and Ruth Bernhard, whose black-and-white series presents shells as sensuous forms that recall her evocative portraits of female nudes. By contrast, Ansel Adams’s and Minor White’s works are more mundane and rustic images focusing on shell fragments as well as edible species like clams.

Veronica M. White, Curator of Academic Programs

The installation will coincide with the October 19 faculty panel discussion The Enduring Allure of Seashells: Conchology and Art

  • 67254
    Crispin van de Passe I, the Elder, Dutch, 1564–1637
    Aqua (one of a series of four elements)
    x1934-1142.88
  • 67217
    Crispin van de Passe I, the Elder, Dutch, 1564–1637
    Christ washing the Disciples' Feet
    x1934-1142.11
  • 23941
    Sebastien Stoskopff, Alsatian, 1597–1657
    Still Life, ca. 1650–57
    y1951-27
  • 49048
    Wenceslaus Hollar, Bohemian, 1607–1677
    Argonauta Tuberculata
    x1937-276.1
  • 47324
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, First Plate: Frontispiece
    x1934-458 a
  • 47325
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Second Plate: Araneus Marinus
    x1934-458 b
  • 47326
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Third Plate: Testudo Marina
    x1934-458 c
  • 47327
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Fourth Plate: Halec
    x1934-458 d
  • 47332
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Plate Nine: Raja (Raye)
    x1934-458 i
  • 47334
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Plate Ten: Moluscius
    x1934-458 j
  • 47335
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Plate Eleven: Psetta (Sole)
    x1934-458 k
  • 47336
    A.B. Flamen, ac. 1648 - 1669/74
    Poissons de Mer, Second Series, Plate Twelve: Canicula (Dog fish)
    x1934-458 l
  • 15183
    Paul Caponigro, American, born 1932
    Nautilus Shell, Ipswich, Mass from Portfolio One: Twelve Photographs, 1960
    x1982-9.6
  • 14892
    Lilo Raymond, American, 1922–2009
    Untitled (Oyster Shells)
    x1982-383
  • 80461
    Edward Weston, American, 1886–1958
    Shells
    MWA X414
  • 15724
    Eliot Furness Porter, American, 1901–1990
    Crow Middens, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, 1949
    x1984-215
  • 117935
    Edward Weston, American, 1886–1958
    Edward Weston, The Silver Image Gallery, Seattle Washington, 1978
    RB-1511
  • 79999
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    Shells + Foot (Don Normark, Gallery Cove, Point Lobos, California), March 15, 1950
    x1980-1947
  • 14424
    Jan Groover, American, born 1943
    Untitled, 1979, 1979
    x1980-8
  • 51578
    Ansel Adams, American, 1902–1984
    Barnacles, Cape Cod, 1939
    2006-779