A hand-carved reproduction of a Mississippian shell gorget with spider design. Buy now.

In my children’s book, Uleyli- The Princess & Pirate, Uleyli carved a “seashell medallion” that ultimately changed her life. The necklace is actually based on a real artifact. Known by archaeologists as a shell gorget, these artifacts have been found throughout the eastern United States. The spider design is one of several popular designs that also included rattlesnakes and woodpeckers. These designs were created between the years 1100 AD – 1600 AD. These designs were carved onto seashells that originated from the Gulf Coast of Florida which shows there was a far-flung trading network that carried these items to sites across the Southeastern U.S. and beyond.

Spider gorgets from Illinois

A few modern artisans have revived the ancient art of shell carving. Here’s the modern process used by Florida artisan Grady Smith to recreate these beautiful works of art. (Buy Now.)

gold mother of pearl seashell
The first step is finding the appropriate seashell on which to carve the design. The ancient artisans of Florida typically chose lightning whelk shells as their medium of choice. Yet modern artisans carve on a variety of seashells including gold mother of pearl (pictured).
seashell sanding
The next step is to free the underlying gold mother of pearl from the outer shell casing through grinding and sanding.

gold mother of pearl seashell
The end result is a beautiful gold mother of pearl shell on which to carve the design.
The artisan then chooses the best area of the shell on which to carve then draws a circle to serve as a guide for cutting the final medallion.
The circular design is then cut out from the main shell.
The spider design is then drawn on the blank shell as a guide for carving.
The artisan meticulously roughs in the design then adds the smaller, fine details.
recreation of mississippian spider gorget
All of this effort results in an exquisite piece of wearable art. Buy now.