Fri, May 29, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Kinmen artist turns shell obsession into show at army base

By Wu Cheng-ting and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Construction worker Chen Chih-wei works on a seashell sculpture in Kinmen County on Wednesday.

Photo: Wu Cheng-ting, Taipei Times

Construction worker Chen Chih-wei (陳志緯) has work of a different sort on display at a vacant army base in Kinmen County up to the end of July: Seashells that he has made into a number of sculptures.

Ever since seeing tides along the shores of Kinmen assemble seashells into different shapes while he was a sixth-grader in elementary school, Chen said he had been hooked by shells.

“I never looked back,” Chen said.

Results from a seemingly random selection of shells and display of skill are things that many visitors to the display comment on, saying the work is special because it is based on creativity and observation from someone who has not been formally taught the craft.

Chen said the hardest part of “seashell sculpting” is finding appropriately colored shells that fit what he plans to make.

He bases his creations on the shapes of the shells rather than selecting the shells for a predetermined design, Chen said, adding jokingly that his willful attitude toward his work has cost him many chances to join exhibitions.

Chen said he used shells from sea snails called firebrand murex, Chicoreus torrefactus, for scales in a piece titled Chinese Dragon, while the claws were made from Japanese goose barnacles, Capitulum mitella.

Harley Davidson, a reconstruction of the classic motorcycle, use shells from nautilus molluscs to form the vehicle’s body, while the rear-view mirrors were made from tusk shells from the dentaliidae family, he said.

Chen said that in the four decades he has devoted to art, he has gone from a complete idiot regarding seashells to being an expert, while his travels have taken him to every part of Kinmen.

The county is home to a large variety of shells, though it is difficult to find some species, Chen said, adding that it is not unusual to find several shells he has not seen before and are unknown even to professors at National Taiwan University or even among pictures in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Chen said he is aware of the need to maintain an ecological balance and made it a rule to only collect shells that are uninhabited.

Chen said that every piece in the show is unique and has never left Kinmen, adding that he would not mind sending pieces to Taiwan proper or overseas if the chance presented itself.

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