Shellman has washed ashore on the beaches of Sweden – the longer story
The Shellman story spans from Sydney, via Amsterdam to Helsingborg, Sweden.
SYDNEY – On his backpacker trip back in 2003, 19 year old Niels van Alphen from Amsterdam had just arrived in Sydney when he ran into Australia’s No.1 shell artist in a café.
Niels was invited to shell master Paul Bruce’s studio on the spot (the master needed an assistant). Niels was mesmerised by his shell artwork.
“I had never seen anything like it. And yes, I wanted to be his assistant. I had planned to be away a few months but wasn’t back in Europe until three years later.”
The master and his apprentice worked side by side and eventually Niels developed into a skilled shell artist by his own merits. But then his old mentor passed away after years of intense work. Niels headed back to Amsterdam with an extensive stock of inherited shells.
AMSTERDAM – Back in The Netherlands Niels met a new market for decorative shell art. Not virgin, but not entirely ready either. Still, his own Dutch version of the Australian Shellman was soon to be a success.
Fast forward to May 2011. By pure chance, I heard about Niels during a weekend trip to Amsterdam. I arranged a visit to his studio and I was stunned by his craftmanship and caring for details. We kept in touch and when I left my ad agency seven years later I asked if Niels planned any more shell workshops (I had attended one earlier).
“I’ve stopped shelling, but I am looking for someone who can take over and carry on the Shellman tradition. An old master in Australia taught me the craft, now you can learn from me. What do you say, are you up for it?”
HELSINGBORG – In 2018 I spent eight intense summer weeks – shelling 24/7 – in my mentor’s Amsterdam shell studio along with my stepson Buster (now also my shell studio partner). He had planned to hang around just a few days, but was intrigued by the studio work and stayed until we both mastered the technique and had made a number of shell frames approved by master Niels.
We brought 1,5 ton of shells back to Sweden, designed our own shell studio in Helsingborg and started Shellman Scandinavia. Sweden will see some amazing shell art.
Mikael & Buster, shellmen at Shellman