Four Gen­er­a­tions of Shell Crafters

Mak­ing Waves is our salute to the res­i­dents, busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions of South­west Flor­ida’s is­land coast who make the com­mu­nity spe­cial

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Since 1980, shell crafter Daphne Hunte has trav­eled from her home in Bar­ba­dos to Sani­bel to ei­ther en­ter her art­work or judge oth­ers’ cre­ations at the an­nual Sani­bel Shell Show, held at The Com­mu­nity House. How­ever, this past March, her fam­ily set a mile­stone when a valentine made by her 8-year-old great grand­daugh­ter Mar­lie won sec­ond place in the chil­dren’s divi­sion, of­fi­cially mark­ing the suc­cess of four gen­er­a­tions of shell crafters.

Hunte, who has a stu­dio in Bar­ba­dos, taught her daugh­ters, grand­daugh­ters and great grand­daugh­ters shell art. “They are all artis­tic and cre­ative and do many beau­ti­ful pieces of art,” she says of her eight stu­dents.

Hunte first be­came in­ter­ested in shells as a young girl swim­ming and shelling at a beach near the Bar­ba­dos sugar farm where she grew up. As a stu­dent, she be­gan mak­ing shell ear­rings and neck­laces for friends. Af­ter mar­riage and the births of her thr ee daugh­ters, Hunte de­cided to en­ter com­pe­ti­tions in Bar­ba­dos and in 1980 she sub­mit­ted her shell art in the Sani­bel show, which is con­sid­ered the largest ex­hi­bi­tion of its kind in the Unit ed States. Her first en­try, a stun­ning flo­ral ar­range­ment of seashells, won first place in its cat­e­gory at the

ju­ried event, which cel­e­brated its 81st an­niver­sary this year.

She con­tin­ued com­pet­ing un­til 1991 when she was in­vited to judge the show; she judged it again in 1993 be­fore turn­ing her full at­ten­tion to es­tab­lish­ing her Bar­ba­dos stu­dio, with the help of her daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ters.

“I have a vast col­lec­tion of shells,” Hunte says, ad­mit­ting that she doesn’t have one par­tic­u­lar fa­vorite shell. “My shell art is al­ways in­spired by the beauty and col­ors of the shells.” She also has a large col­lec­tion of sailors’ valen­tines. “I have cre­ated many valen­tines, one for each of my daugh­ters and grand­daugh­ters,” she says of the art form de­vel­oped in the early 19th cen­tury by women in the Caribbean, par­tic­u­larly Bar­ba­dos, from shells their beloved sailors brought home.

In 2003, Hunte once again be­came in­volved in the Sani­bel show and judged it in 2004 and 2006. She en­cour­aged her grand­daugh­ter Jessie to en­ter in 2008; her three an­tique watch­cases with shell art won first place.

“I love com­ing to Sani­bel to the shell show as it is so well or­ga­nized and has so many ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful shells and shell art,” says Hunte of the event. And her great grand­daugh­ter Mar­lie seems to be fol­low­ing in Hunte’s foot­steps. “I was happy to en­ter the show and very ex­cited to win sec­ond place. I plan to en­ter again next year,” the bud­ding artist says.

The an­nual Sani­bel Shell Show, held at The Com­mu­nity House on Sani­bel Is­land in March, is a ju­ried com­pe­ti­tion that at­tracts crafters and artists alike.

Top: Daphne Hunte with her great grand­daugh­ter Mar­lie, who won a sec­ond place award at the Sani­bel Shell Show this past March. Bot­tom: Hunte with Mar­lie’s win­ning piece; Hunte’s cre­ations in­clude shell ta­ble tops, bou­quets, and the seashell flo­ral...

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