She sells seashells (and gives them away, too)

Sherri Church sends Islanders on a scavenger hunt with dividends.

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Sherri Church of West Tisbury has taken the expression “happy as a clam” to heart. She has been using her business, Clammer Creations, in a unique way to help lift people’s spirits during these challenging times.

Church creates one-of-a-kind jewelry designs using Island clamshells. She refers to her work as “purple shell” creations, as a way of showing cultural sensitivity. Originally her business name was Indian Hill Wampum, but she says that she chose to avoid using “words that belong to the Wampanoag.” Hence the name change.

In November, when things were at their bleakest, Church began a series of scavenger hunts. She would tuck pieces of her jewelry inside clamshells, and hide them at various locations around the Island. People could find clues to the locations on her Facebook page. She called the challenge “Luck of the Shuck,” since the retail price of the pieces ranged from $35 to $250.

“I started in November, because so many people were looking at things negatively,” says Church. “People were home all day with nothing to do. I just think the purple shell brings joy to everyone.”

The scavengers who were lucky (or determined) enough to find the little hidden treasures posted pictures on Facebook, often including a story about the impact of the gift. “I got testimonials,” says Church. “Someone would say that they were stuck in their house for months, and they went out for their first walk and found a shell. One woman who got a piece reminiscent of wings said that she found it inspiring because her mom is sick with COVID right now.”

Even those who may have searched unsuccessfully found pleasure in the hunt, and Church realized an unsought bonus in the form of sales. Some folks responded to pictures of the earrings or other finds posted on Facebook by ordering the items from the Clammer Creations Etsy store.

Church’s daughter Samantha owns the shop Driftwood Jewelry. Mother and daughter have been running the shop since it first opened in Oak Bluffs in 2015. This past summer, the store operated as a pop-up in the space occupied by Claudia jewelry store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. Although the brick-and-mortar location closed at the end of last year, customers can still find the shop’s extensive collection of handcrafted artisan jewelry, gifts, and accessories by local artists online at driftwoodjewelrymv.square.site.

Although she had worked with clamshells before, Church only began making jewelry in earnest after the artist whose wampum work was featured at her daughter’s shop was no longer offering jewelry there. “A friend loaned me some tools,” Church recalls. “I made a few pairs of earrings, and it just took off.”

She uses her own process to carve and drill the clamshells. “I work with different tools from most every other craftsperson,” says Church. “I do not use a wet saw. I use a handsaw dry. I seem to be pretty good at it. I have a very light touch with the shell.”

“I use the whole shell, not just the part where the muscle is connected,” she adds. “A lot of people just cut off the bright purple part.”

Because the production method is relatively quick, Church is able to keep her prices low. “I think everybody should be able to have a beautiful piece of the Island,” she says.

Currently Church is offering a Featured for January special on a design called Heart Wings, which features an intricately carved heart on top of a disk. Pendants sell for $88, earrings for $68, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the Animal Shelter of M.V. Other items include turtle, feather, and leaf designs, and stacks of beads fashioned into a keychain fob.

While jewelry making may be a fairly new practice for Church, her history with clamshells goes back a long way. She was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, where she often fished with her father. For her creations she uses shells obtained from a local fisherman whom she has known since childhood. The Vineyard native recently discovered that her grandmother, Victoria O. Fontaine Amaral, was the first woman to hold a shellfishing license. “Here I am, decades later, using the shells she used to fish to feed her children,” says Church.

Although the January scavenger hunt was scheduled to be the final one, Church is now planning on continuing the project, with a twist. From now through Valentine’s Day, she will be planting “Message in a Bottle” treats at various places around the Island, and leaving clues to the locations on her Facebook page.

“I just want people to feel good when they find them,” she says. “My shells were helpful gifts in a time of questionable funds for some; for others it was a blessing, a find of hope, and simple fun in a year that wasn’t so fun.”

Clammer Creations can be found at Driftwood Jewelry, Claudia in Edgartown, and at Clammer Creations on Etsy. Find clues at facebook.com/clammercreations.