Melonie Massa has been making things for as long as she can remember, but it was at age 10 that she found the medium she still uses today. During a school field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Bristol native first laid eyes on a sailor’s valentine, an old maritime craft dating back to the 1800s where shadow boxes are filled with intricate designs made of seashells. The lore is that sailors would bring these home to their sweethearts as love tokens from sea. “So many of them featured shell flowers, and I became obsessed with that detail,” explains Massa. Combining artistic talent with an interest in botany, Massa began looking at shells as petals – and was soon constructing flowers.
At first, Massa created wearable pieces for herself like jewelry and hair accessories, but received so many compliments and inquiries that she started carrying business cards. In 2009 she opened an online Etsy shop and started attending artisan shows under the name Mermaid’s Baubles. Today, Massa produces and sells her shell blossoms as bracelets, rings, pendants, earrings, and more, along with taking custom orders. One of her favorite requests was creating home accents for a newlywed couple using shells they’d beachcombed on their honeymoon.
Seeking shells for Mermaid’s Baubles has brought Massa to the beaches of Puerto Rico, and most recently Riviera Maya, a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatán Peninsula; the shells collected from that visit are part of her Summer 2023 collection. “I am having so much fun using them, along with seashells I beachcomb right in my backyard.”
Closer to home, Massa is active in the local community and works with Save the Bay organizing and leading beach cleanup efforts. “My art is exclusively created using a medium that is not an infinite resource,” notes Massa who is very careful to never take any live creatures and aims to leave the shoreline cleaner and freer of debris than when she arrived. “There are some species of mollusks, conchs, and such that are highly desirable and also extremely rare, and there are many treasures that I use sparingly in my work that are now sadly extinct,” says Massa of her extensive shell collection, which includes antique shells from the 1920s.
While her handiwork can be found at artisan co-op shops around the state, Massa still enjoys selling at festivals and can be found popping up throughout New England in the summer months, as well as at the Scituate Art Festival in October. However, she has cut back a bit on outdoor markets due to a recent brush with skin cancer. Massa emphasizes that when she works festivals she may be “out in the blazing sun for up to 12 hours a day without a break” and now tries to be mindful of that reality when filling her schedule. “I’d like to encourage all my fellow festival artists and fellow beachcombers to wear sunscreen every day, and make sure to get a dermatologist check every year.” Spoken like a true mer-mom.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here