Harwich Artist Uses Seashells to Craft Home Decor

Harwich artist Helen Davis creates unique home décor pieces from oyster shells she collects while walking the beaches of Cape Cod.

Text by Marjorie Naylor Pitts | Photography by Julia Cumes

Creating beautiful decorative pieces from shells is something Harwich-based artist Helen Davis of The Polished Oyster has been doing since childhood. Inspired by her love of the Cape’s treasure trove of seashells and a beloved aunt who introduced her to the craft, Davis creates one-of-a-kind home décor using shells that she has collected while walking the beaches of Cape Cod. “I really love oyster shells,” says Davis, who also incorporates non-native shells into her work. “They’re so gorgeous, tactile, varying in size and color.”

“It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle—it’s a process placing them, building the piece,” says Helen Davis, who also uses cracked conch and whelk shells in her work.

At her studio inside the Harwich Cultural Center, a four-foot-long great white shark, made of meticulously arranged oyster shells, hangs on the wall behind her workbench. “That’s Mac,” says Davis. “Like a real great white, he’s not actually all white—he’s got a white underbelly of local oyster shells and a dark upper body of black oyster shells from the Carolinas.” Mac is a hearty soul, pieced together with marine glue, explains Davis, and can be hung either indoors or outside due to the strong, durable nature of the shells: “They take a beating,” says Davis, “water, elements—they can take it,” which adds to their appeal for clients looking to incorporate pieces in their home, patio or garden areas.

Throughout her studio, Davis has bins and jars filled with shells of various types, shapes, sizes and colors, as well as neatly stacked piles of driftwood and weathered tree branches. Davis combines the wood and shells to create unique display pieces, such as one with a chunky piece of driftwood cradling the complex intricacy of a crosscut nautilus shell.

On display atop a bookcase are three-dimensional oyster shell centerpieces that can also be hung as wreaths. Propped on a workbench is a vintage 1940s beveled glass mirror framed in dark wood that Davis has painted and is covering with carefully selected creamy white oyster shells. “It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle—it’s a process placing them, building the piece,” says Davis, who also uses cracked conch and whelk shells in her work. She admires the beauty of their broken imperfection, their deep-peach-colored interiors exposed: “It’s like life: a little dinged and scratched, yet beautiful.”

Helen Davis of The Polished Oyster: Decorative Accessories for Home & Garden can be reached at 508-237-6043 orthepolishedoyster@gmail.com

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