Published On: Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Selling Seashell Pottery by the Sea Shore in Campbell River
CAMPBELL RIVER - Dinnerware fit for King Neptune’s table, shell-like and glazed in pearly translucence, is the signature creation of Campbell River’s Mussels and More.
Based on the artistic vision of artist Jan Sell, Mussels and More has distributed its unique ocean and nautical themed dinnerware to as many as 200 outlets across Canada and the U.S. The family-run operation in an 11,000 square foot building is the largest production craft pottery in Canada.
Their exquisite gift ware features shell-like bowls and serving pieces, accompanied by barnacle and starfish encrusted mugs, plates, platters and trays. Buyers can choose accent pieces or acquire a complete dinnerware set.
Their best-selling seashell bowls replicate the colours and graceful fluted shapes of west coast shellfish: mussels, bear claws, clam shells, and oysters in a range of sizes, from dip bowls to large serving dishes.
Ocean lovers who want a show-shopping piece in their homes can choose a shell shaped bathroom sink, accurately shaped and glazed to replicate the natural look of a shell.
“When we design our shells, we try to capture the shapes and colours as they are in nature – as if you found them on the beach,” says daughter Erin Sell, who works in the family business as office manager, gift shop supervisor, glazer, and any other required tasks.
The business employs 10 people, four of them family members, and six employees. With such a small team, Erin said everyone contributes where they can in addition to handling specific responsibilities.
The production process starts with a design by Jan. A self-taught potter for more than 30 years, she was inspired to create a line of pottery based on seashells, starting with mussels. Appropriately, at the time her studio was on a floating barge.
“I thought what fun it would be – to bake and serve food from a giant clay shell,” she says.
It took years of work, the addition of husband Mike Sell to the team, and thousands of hours of development and miles logged attending gift shows to develop their product and develop the distribution network for their product. The work paid off with a thriving business turning out thousands of pieces annually and a distribution map that shows their products being sold coast-to-coast in both Canada and the U.S.
As Jan originally envisioned, the shell dishes are both beautiful and functional. Almost all pieces are oven, microwave and dishwasher safe. The only exceptions are the platters and dinner plates which are not recommended for baking.
The family was also able to maintain the artisan aspect of the pieces. Despite their range of products and production volume, each piece is still one-of-a-kind, with hand-applied embellishments and hand-brushed glazes.
Production blends high volume techniques and hand-work. Once Jan has created the initial design and a prototype, Erin’s fiancé Blair Holmes makes a die for a stamping press. The die stamps out the basic shape of each piece.
The detailing, a mix of starfish, small clams, barnacles, and sea worms, is added by hand, ensuring each piece is unique. Then the pieces are fired overnight in a low-temperature electric kiln, to creating bisque ware for glazing.
Custom-made glazes are brushed on by hand and are designed to mimic the natural shades of shells. Some glazes replicate the natural shell’s beautiful pearly opalescence. The final step is 11 hours of firing at 2285 degrees in an industrial-sized, 12-foot high gas kiln.
In addition to the nautical ware, Mussels and More carries glasswork by Jan’s son Gibson. His striking octopus-tentacle dotted serving spoons are a perfect accompaniment for the shellfish serving bowls. There are also art cards by Jan, by Erin’s future mother-in-law Catherine Holmes, and photo cards by Mike, plus artisan soaps, and jewellery.
Mike handles promotion of the company, including the website. Mussels and More products can be ordered online giving everyone access to the magic of serving from a shell, just as Jan originally imagined it.