From a quick glance, it’s easy to mistake crafter Isabella Makowski’s passion for a fondness for things botanical. But a close look reveals the truth: Her floral arrangements are not collections of plants at all, but intricate and detailed bouquets of seashells and fish scales. And this Saturday, March 23, she’ll be bringing her crafts to the Millville Artisans Fair at Millville Fire Department.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said of her craft, “and it gives me something to do.”
Being around a coastline has always brought Makowski a fascination with the things she picked up along the shore. Over the past 20 years, she has found a way to turn shells and driftwood into original art forms. Colorful seashells portray delicate petals in an ever-living garden.
After friends and family return from a day of fishing, Makowski makes sure that the unused parts of the fish are not overlooked. Rockfish scales are carefully dyed and glued together to form realistic arrangements.
“They keep the meat, and I get the scales,” she said with a laugh.
Makowski grew up in Connecticut and along the beaches of New England, but it’s the eastern shore of Maryland that helps her produce some of her finest works.
“I thought up the idea after traveling to Florida,” she said. “There are a lot of amazing shells to collect there, and I have found all types around here, too.”
The Ocean City, Md., beaches and Assateague wildlife areas supply most of the media she works with, such as mussel shells, but she still keeps her eyes peeled when heading down to Florida, too. Conch shells that have been eroded down to their center spools add unique flair to some of her works.
Paper whites and tusk shells are also used for her decorations. Jingle shells, apple blossom shells and coquina shells are all very popular and can make beautiful flowers, too. None of her shells are painted, as the natural colors and hues supply all the splendor she is looking for. Some of the fish scale flowers may be dyed, but those left in their original appearance are also quite stunning.
Though she has had her hand in the craft for the past few decades, it hasn’t been until recent years that Makowski began participating in craft shows. She joined the Pine’eer Crafters of Ocean Pines and was even named this past April’s Crafter of the Month. She donates her time and work to a variety of charities and even supplied the seashell arrangements for her son’s wedding.
The first Saturday of August, she will also take part in the Ocean Pines Crafters and Artist show. Each year, she tries to participate in three to four shows, as the bouquets and arrangements can bee too time-consuming to allow for any more.
“People really seem to like what I do,” she said, inside her mini-studio, situated upstairs in her Berlin, Md., home. “It can take a lot of time, but I love working with these shells. It brings the beauty out of the beach.”
Stop by the Millville Artisans Fair this Saturday, March 23, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Millville Fire Department along Route 26 in Millville to see Makowski’s work. More than 40 different artists and crafters, spanning three states, will be featuring their work.