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Local shell crafter releases new book

February 22, 2017
By ASHLEY GOODMAN ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

In an effort to inspire others and bring back the lost art of vintage shell crafting, Heather Holmes O'Keefe published her first book, "American Shell Craft" last month.

"I do a lot of different shell work, but very few people do replicas of what was done before," O'Keefe said.

"American Shell Craft" discusses the history of vintage seashell jewelry, provides patterns so readers can re-create certain designs and shows off O'Keefe's impressive vintage seashell jewelry collection.

Article Photos

Heather O’Keefe with her latest book, “American Shell Craft.”


"The book only shows about a third of my collection," she said.

The book has more than 140 photographs of vintage shell necklaces, earrings, brooches and pins that date back from the 1930s all the way to the 1970s. The book even showcases brooches and pins that were made in WWII Japanese internment camps. O'Keefe said that she has been collecting seashell jewelry since she was a little girl and has approximately 300 pieces. Most of the information in her book comes from seashell jewelry catalogs she's picked up over the years from the 1930s-1960s.

Initially, O'Keefe wrote the book with the premise that beginners would pick up the craft, but, she has found that it's been just the opposite.

"Some of the most prominent artists bought the book. It appealed to a group I didn't expect which is interesting," she said.

While discussing her collection, she said she came across many of her pieces either by stopping at estate sales or by going to various antique malls across the United States, and even Canada. One of her best finds was at an estate sale in Duluth, Minnesota. O'Keefe left with a few brooches and earrings, and a coveted stash of rare colored shells.

"I was trembling, I had goosebumps," she said. "That was probably 30 years ago."

O'Keefe, who is a seasonal Sanibel resident and a retired communications professor from the University of North Dakota, got her first taste of the island in 1976. O'Keefe said that she and her husband and their two sons would make the trip to Sanibel every few years. In 2013, she and her husband decided to do away with renting and buy their own condo on the island.

"It was a love affair that started the first time my husband and I came over. We had been married one year and we were at a convention and we said 'Let's go over and see this new island,' we stayed one night and fell in love with it and I always thought 'When I retire, this is where I want to end up,' and that's exactly what I did," she said.

O'Keefe, who has been attending the Shell Crafter meetings at the Sanibel Community House since 2014, has plans of exhibiting a few of her pieces at this year's 80th annual Sanibel Shell Festival.

"The first year, I entered in the collectibles category, then I started making things after that. Sanibel is the toughest. Everything they say about Sanibel is true. You can win in Broward and Sarasota, I even go to Philadelphia and compete, but if you get a blue ribbon in Sanibel, you should probably put that in your obituary," she laughs.

O'Keefe's latest book, "American Shell Craft" can be found at MacIntosh Books and Three Crafty Ladies. The price is $28.95.



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