Shell Shadow Box I
This 19th-century shadowbox contains a variety of meticulously arranged shells – including a large scallop at the bottom centre – and coral pieces in a wooden frame. Together, the framed seashells resemble a bouquet of flowers. The precise origins of this piece are unknown. Throughout the 19th century, women crafted objects using various repurposed domestic and natural materials, including fabric scraps, feathers, human hair, and seashells. British women were especially fond of collecting, cataloging, and learning the scientific names of different seashells. In 19th-century Britain, middle- and upper-class women were expected to demonstrate an enthusiasm for nature, in part, due to the widespread belief that nature and morality are intimately linked. Some male commentators also supported the cultural push for women's science education, claiming it would help wives better sympathize with their husbands' interests. Men and women alike displayed seashells in curio cabinets. However, the illusionistic arrangement of seashells into decorative displays was considered a distinctly female pastime (similar to other genres of fancywork like ornamental needlework and knitting). This object's anonymous maker arranged these shells to resemble a purely decorative, domestic object: a bouquet of flowers. The civilizing act of collecting pieces from the natural world for interior decoration – be they flowers or shells – is encapsulated by the aesthetic arrangement of the various shells and corals.
At this time in Britain, author Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) first published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Originating as a series of stories told by Carroll to a friend’s children, Alice’s Adventures was unique for its imaginative and nonsensical plot, at a time when children’s books were primarily focused on morality. Since its initial publication, the book has never been out of print. The story has been translated into 174 languages, and heavily adapted.