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Marina Tricorico

The Shell Man

By: Marina TricoricoCollege Now Course - BSS 1

"Want to see something special?" People always get a kick out of this impression of my Papa, with his thick Italian accent and broken English. Most people take this statement the wrong way, mistaking my grandfather for some sort of exhibitionist, but what he is offering to share with them is something beyond special. He calls them his "keys," which open the doors to bring God into people lives. These aren't your standard Baldwin door keys however. His keys are seashells, in which he paints miraculous Biblical scenes. My Papa, born in Mola di Bari, Italy, was never schooled in painting, or any kind of art for that matter. But each shell he paints is done in painstaking detail, scenes continuing up into the twisting crevices of the shell. Copying most of his pictures from various art books, these sacred paintings are done with amazing likeness to the originals. Among his works are such world-acclaimed and known paintings such as the Last Supper, reproduced twice, in shells less than 2 inches in diameter. He is now working on a 12 shell piece, which, when completed, will be a replica of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

My Papa's story is an amazing one, and is difficult to put into my own words. The following is his version of how he began this wonderful practice. "While on vacation in Aruba in 1990, my wife, my cousins, and I went to the beach late in the afternoon to relax. After a while, I left the others, and went somewhere more private to say my daily prayer. While I was praying, a twelve-year-old boy was picking up shells not too far from where I was. At this time of day, there were not too many people at the beach. After the boy filled a bag up with shells, he left, after which I continued to pray. All of a sudden, a strong feeling within me told me to pick up shells for myself. This feeling was so strong, that right away I got up, went to my wife and asked her for a bag, and I started to pick up shells. I filled up 3/4 of a bag. I brought them home and left them in a corner of my basement. Two weeks later, another strong feeling came over me. The feeling told me to do something with the shells. When I heard this, I said to myself, I'm going to paint inside these shells spiritual images. My first shell was of Christ carrying the cross. When I looked at the shell at eye level, I got the chills. But the cross seemed to be semicircular, due to the depth of the shell. I learned to adjust my paintings so that when looked at, the figures inside the shell are perfect from all angles. From the bottom of my heart, I knew then that the feeling I had felt was the Power of the Holy Spirit, which had led me to begin painting in the shells."

I was three when Papa received this gift of the Holy Spirit, so I never thought much of it. Naturally, I was proud of his artistic ability, and would show him off to anyone who would listen. At the beach, I would collect him as many shells as I could, always picking the most perfect ones, with a good surface to paint on. I would visit him down the basement in the studio my father built for him, watching him as he whistled and painted, the brushes customized by Papa himself, to have only a few bristles, his palette nothing more than the lid to a plastic Chinese food container. I was even the subject of two or three of his shells. I was enamored with the art, rather than the spiritual meaning behind them, and while I listened to my grandfather preach about their meanings, I never grasped what he was getting at. Now that I am older and more mature, I understand the significance of the shells. My Papa is not just some man who happened to unearth a flair for painting. He is a man who is truly blessed. He has a clear purpose on this Earth, to spread the word of God. You may never see smiles like the smiles of those who come into contact with the shells. They are insatiable, wanting to scrutinize every detail, and learn the stories behind the shells and the scenes. They want to know about Jesus. For years, Papa basically showed the shells to people he met at church, family members, friends of family, and other random people. He always carried shells in his pockets (and he still does). More recently, he started having showings at churches. The turnouts are amazing. Hundreds of people will come, some staying hours to listen to him speak about God. I love going to the showings just to explain the shells to people. They are so amazed and so touched by what he does.

Naturally, there are many stories that go along with the shells. My personal favorite is about a certain shell Paper christened "The Miracle Shell." When I was little, I brought him a shell, that when overturned, appeared to have the head of the dove. Upon observing the shell head, on the outer neck of the shell, is an indentation in the shape of a flying dove. It is quite amazing, being that the dove is one of the forms of the Holy Spirit. My grandfather kept putting off painting this shell, until one day he decides to paint John baptizing Jesus. He finally finishes the shell, and that night decides to bring it to his prayer meeting. Amazingly, the topic of discussion that night was none other than the baptism of Jesus. Only through miracles of God could such occurrences happened to this shell, from it being placed in his hands by me, to the timing of his painting it.

Fourteen years and 200+ shells later, Papa is becoming somewhat of a celebrity. He has appeared at several churches for showings and was featured in an article titled "God-powered art," complete with color photos of him and some of his shells. Of course, he claims his talent comes from God and no one else, although he does seem a tiny bit proud of himself sometimes. What's for sure is that I'm proud of the Shell Man, my Papa.