A shell’s birth

October 3, 2007

In imagination is the preservation of wilderness. By this I mean one of two things. The first is that even while living deep within the confines of a city a person can close their eyes and imagine—quite vividly—the smells, visual details and tactile qualities of the green earth that they have in the past experienced. To call this up in one’s mind through one’s imagination is a powerful tool, not only for its calming and healing potential, but also to sustain and remind the political/environmental activist (while biding their time in solitary confinement at the local jail) why they engage in civil disobedience when pursuing legislative or other changes to protect and preserve wilderness.


The second meaning when I write “In imagination is the preservation of wilderness” is that an artist, through his/her imagination, has the ability (and quite possibility the responsibility) to create works of art that are expressive of the natural world and convey a sense of its inherent beauty. By so doing, these imaginative artistic renderings of nature’s beauty will serve to motivate people to protect wilderness areas because they have fallen in love with these areas through the imagination of the artist. Think of wilderness photographers Ansel Adams (America) or Peter Dombrovskis (Australia). Think of the poet Mary Oliver. Or, the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. All focus their artistic efforts on the sublime beauty of nature. Their collective works are, indeed, iconic representations of the earth’s beauty.

Likewise for me.


Whenever I hold a sea shell in the palm of my hand I constantly marvel at the exquisite mathematical genius that is its beauty. In my studio I use my remembering of the shell at the beach—my imagination—to recall it into form. (Definition One above)

Outside my studio, my desire is that whoever views this sculpture will taste something of the sea in their handling of it and , thereby, fall a tiny bit in love with the natural world. (Definition Two above)


What I have carved can be simply described as a sea shell nestled into an organic kelp form. It can also be looked at (with a bit of imagination) as the billowing kelp giving birth to a sea shell.


Many religious traditions go to great lengths to explain their faith intellectually, but their real lure is in the beauty of their rites and images. When Gerard Manley Hopkins claims that “the World is charged with the grandeur of God,” I take it to mean that we can glimpse God in the electric beauty of nature and art.

Thomas Moore in The Soul’s Religion

Last year (1 April 2006) when writing about a sculpture similar to this one, I created a story about the birth of Beauty. As a starting point, I used the creation myth of the goddess Venus as portrayed by Botticelli’s painting “The birth of Venus”; sometimes referred to as “The birth of Beauty”. I proposed that if Venus came from a sea shell (the sea shell being symbolic of nature), just possibly the artistic portrayal of the birth of a sea shell could take us even closer to the source of all beauty—the electric beauty of nature Thomas Moore speaks about where we can glimpse God.

A bit convoluted I confess, but what the hell, even if my thinking process is a bit spirally, it is my own imaginative myth making, isn’t it? The story might fail on an intellectual level, but I do hope that there is a lure for the viewer in these photo images of the sea shell emerging swollen and smooth from the pregnant top side of a double layering of mating kelp. A lure both enticing and informative.


Now before my friends start bagging me for being either too religious or too blasphemous, let me just quote again from Thomas Moore:

It is better to be on the cusp between religion and secularity than to fall into either category. For there is [a] paradox at work: the appearance of religiosity is often in inverse proportion to the quality of religious practice.

And, as beautiful as I think this new sculpture is, I am reminded of the humbling words of Rumi:

So delicate yesterday, the nightsinging birds
by the creek. Their words were:

You may make a jewelry flower
out of gold and rubies and emeralds,
but it will have no fragrance.


Length of “A Shell’s Birth” — 5 feet / 1.5 metres

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