Monday, June 2, 2014

Design and Craft a Sailor's Valentine

My "hybrid" sailor's Valentine craft for young students includes both real
 and drawn seashells. I needed to develop a method for producing this
craft on a very limited budget for my classroom. This is the solution that
I came up with for next year's ocean unit.
      A sailor's valentine is a form of shellcraft, a type of mostly antique souvenir, or sentimental gift made using large numbers of small seashells. These were originally made between 1830 and 1890 and they were designed to be brought home from a sailor's voyage at sea and given to the sailor's loved one or loved ones. Sailor valentines are typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden boxes ranging from 8" to 15" in width, displaying intricate symmetrical designs composed entirely of small sea shells of various colors glued onto a backing. Patterns often feature a centerpiece such as a compass rose or a heart design, hence the name, and in some cases the small shells are used to spell out a sentimental message.
      Although the name seems to suggest that the sailors themselves made these objects, a large number of them originated in the island of Barbados, which was an important seaport during this period. Historians believe that the women there made the valentines using local shells, or in some cases using shells imported from Indonesia, and then the finished products were sold to the sailors.
      In his book Sailors' Valentines, John Fondas concludes that the primary source for sailors' valentines was the New Curiosity Shop, located in McGregor Street, Bridgetown, Barbados, and a popular shop where sailors would purchase souvenirs. The shop was owned by the English brothers B.H. and George Belgrave. Fondas' research tells of a sailors' valentine reconstruction, during which the reconstructing artist found pieces of a Barbados newspaper inside the backing.
      Today, antique sailors' valentines are collectibles, valued for their beauty and unusual qualities. Collector interest has sparked a resurgence in sailors' valentines as an art form, and shell kits and patterns are now sold at craft shops. Many sailors' valentines, both new and old, can be found on Nantucket, Massachusetts. Wikipedia

      I adapted this paper sailor's valentine project for very young students by printing small black and white shells in advance for them to cut, color and then glue down into a pattern of their own choosing during our craft time for next year. My budget is very limited; I estimate that I will spend approximately 5 cents per student on this craft by the time it is finished. Teachers may, of course, glue real seashells to heavy weight paper plate alternatives if they live in areas where seashells are free and plentiful. I will glue a handful of scallop shells that I collected during a beach vacation to the middle of each child's plate to give them something from the sea to touch and view.
      If your students are much older than my own, first, second, third or even fourth; you may teach a similar project using larger paper plates, more real shells and a chart displaying types of seashells. In fact, this would be a nice project to incorporate into a unit about sea life/ oceans in a regular classroom. My teacher's sample on this post was drawn free hand. Students in fourth grade would certainly be able to create this kind of "doodle" challenge without the aid of cut and pasted design elements.

Craft Supplies:
  • small white paper plates
  • one real scallop shell per project
  • tacky white glue
  • a variety of magic markers
  • sheet of black and white seashells and scissors for young students (optional and included below)
My teacher's sample Sailor's Valentine drawn in black and white prior to coloring.
Left, I pasted a scallop shell down with white tacky glue before drawing my seashell design. I've estimated that I will not have more than twenty children to teach this project to next year, so I have already completed this step in advance for my own resources. Center, I drew my shell design first in black ink. Right, I then used pastel colored magic markers to color the shell design.
A few close up shots of the completed paper Sailor's Valentines. I will staple a black ribbon to the back side of the paper plate in order to hang this project on the wall.
Small seashells for pattern making. I will print and cut these out in bulk for my preschool
students to paste into their Sailor's Valentines. Teachers may wish to do likewise for
their younger students.
 More handcrafted Sailor's Valentines by young students:

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