Elissa Melaragno

Most of us have been picking up and collecting shells since we were children. Usually we don’t know what to do with them. We fill jars, create center pieces on tables and in the garden, and even if we carry them back to the shore, we end up collecting more. When we look at them, we are reminded of the sounds, light, and feelings that the sea has brought us over the years. Whether we have walked in joy or sat with unbearable grief, the surf holds us and invites us unconditionally into its peace.

While on sabbatical in 2006, I sat with my own midlife transition, which included letting go of my then 25-year career as a professional painter and private art instructor. That was the third and, I was sure, last time I would give up art. I studied Jung, the mandala, and became a certified spiritual director. I walked for miles along Maine’s winter coast. I let the ocean wash over my heart and soul. And as I reflect in my poem, The Good Bits, a new art form emerged.

For ages, artists and crafts people have been experimenting with the use of shells as a medium. Some of the most popular have been what have become known as “Sailor’s Valentines.” Sailors on extended ocean voyages ordered these “Valentines” from Barbados for their sweethearts back home. In octagon frames and composed of hundreds of tiny shells, they bore messages of love. In a way, my mosaics are also love messages. The expression of love for our wild oceans, safe harbors, and varied shorelines is certainly present in my work. Looking closely, you will also experience the power of the sky and heavenly bodies as they interact with the waters of our blue orb. Collecting, cleaning, sorting, and arranging these treasures from the sea has felt like a primal, ancient task in which I can find great peace and healing. Perhaps this is why they have become so popular and loved by the patients and staff of Cape Cod Healthcare where many of them hang. It has been an honor to create and place these pieces in locations throughout the Cape and beyond. §

THE GOOD BITS

Walking
Days hours lifetimes
Miles and miles
Along the shore

Tides in and out
Never stopping
Washing over my distant soul

Life as art
Art as life
Abandoned
Cast aside
Too tired

Walking
Can’t stop don’t dare stop

Eyes open downward
Bits and pieces pass by
Shining with beauty
Hidden with hope 

By day’s end
Pockets full
Of the best bits are
Emptied onto table tops 

Soon cry out to merge together
Into a fine tapestry
A restored garden
Or fresh Dreamscape 

The pieces of my life
The softened edges
Slowly shaped
By the ebb and flow of tides
Over which I felt no control

In agreement work together
With my own hands
Soul and Heart
Into the art of life
For whic
All joy once lost
In wonder
Now returns

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Elissa Melaragno (Editor) has been a professional visual artist for thirty years with her works primarily on display in public and healthcare settings. She uses her training in spiritual direction and several holistic healing modalities to inform her work as an artist, art instructor, writer, and consultant in the area of the arts in healthcare.