Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 14, 2009

The Shellboard

Quite possibly, the Shellboard was the first Mother’s Day gift that I created for my mom of my own volition and, as you shall soon see, by my own hands.  I went to a very unusual kindergarten.  That’s a subject for another blog post entirely.  But the day we made shell boards was typical of the experience.

A shell board is nothing more than a decorative plaque with seashells on it, meant to be hung on a wall and admired by a doting parent, not unlike the more ubiquitous macaroni sculptures offered more typically in schools.

When we came into the crafts room, all most of the tables had been pushed together and surrounded by our chairs.  A few other tables had been pushed along the wall, and what were clearly workstations had been set up.  First we were taken to select our boards.  These were pre-cut to size.  Then we went to the distressing station.  At the distressing station, we were told to beat up our boards. The idea was to make them resemble driftwood. We were given sharp steel carving tools, adult hammers, oddly shaped nails, leather stamps, and pattern marking wheels, and told to beat up our boards.

Once our boards were adequately busted, we got to stain them and leave them to dry.  Tomorrow we would decorate them.

NOT A Seashell

NOT A Seashell

The next day, the center island of tables was covered with sorted seashells.  All of them fairly small.  Our remaining responsiblity was to select and glue seashells and assorted debris onto the board in an artistic manner.  I followed all the directions like a good little boy, right up to the end.  One of the items that we were supposed to accent our boards with was a bunch of sea oats.

And I didn’t want to put sea oats on my shell board.  It wasn’t a plant board  It was a shell board.  Further, sea shells come from under the water.  Sea oats live on land.  I didn’t understand why sea oats had any business on my on my seashell board. (Still don’t.)

My kindergarten teacher sold those damn sea oats really hard. I wouldn’t budge.  My shell board was exactly the way that I wanted it. And when the glue was dry, I’d give it to my mom.

Do you know what happened the next day when I went to collected my shell board from the drying table.

That’s right – that bitch had put sea oats on my shell board because she thought it was better.  MY art had been compromised to suit her damn vision.  I was six and in a knot because my art had been messed with.  As you might imagine, I was infuriated.  And I couldn’t get rid of them.  The glue was already dry.  And to make things worse, Mom wouldn’t let me take a knife to it when I got it home.  She thought it was perfect. I tried to explain about the sea oats and the shells and above and below the ocean, and she wouldn’t listen.  She loved it.  It hung in the kitchen or the dining room the entire time I was growing up.  And every time I saw them, I had to see those damn sea oats. It was wrong.  It wasn’t my way. And so it went, ,from the time I was very young, until I left home for the last time.  Over the years, Mom moved six or seven times, leaving Charleston to return home to Atlanta, and then all over town every couple of years, until she finally settled into her condo.

High Art For those who are new, my Mom passed away a few weeks ago, and my sister and I are clearing away her estate.  Among the stuff Shea had piled up to go out the door, I found my shell board.  I took one look at it, and, of course, after forty years, the first thing I saw was those damn sea oats.

I’ve got a really, really sharp chisel, and some rubbing alcohol to dissolve the shellac.  Now I just have to decide if I want it the way I wanted it, or if I should leave it the way Mom liked it.
Stupid, interfering teacher.

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  1. I know exactly what you mean. I was in a craft class once where we painted these cute little ceramic mice eating part of an orange. Don’t ask me why, it was what we were given to paint. and I painted it really cute. It was lovely. the mouse was a soft gray color, the orange was a nice healthy orange.
    The mouse had big eyes that I painted a lovely warm amber brown which contrasted beautifully with the whites of his big eyes.
    I left the item drying in the afternoon.
    I returned the next morning and screamed in horror!
    Some stupid teacher had gone and ANTIQUED all of the art in the whole room. I was crushed!

    For those not familiar with this, you wait till the ceramic piece dries, then you slather it with a nasty brown liquid, let it sit briefly and then rub the high spots dry. Leaving the entire piece looking like something that came our of the muck of hurricane Katrina and only got half heartedly cleaned.

    My mouse, who once had big bright eyes, now had dark dingy eyes and the orange looked diseased.

    I declared that it was no longer mine (since it wasn’t how I had wanted it) and I left it there. The teacher was heartbroken I’m sure, but so was I. and I was only 7 or 8 so it was still legal for me to pitch a fit.

    So yes, Bill. I understand. And you have my sympathy.

    • Oh – I remember “antique-ing.” I don’t think it was applied to this project, but it was another step that I wasn’t allowed to opt out of, on a different art project. Don’t remember the specifics of the project, but I DO remember that I didn’t want my piece to look old and dirty.


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