Saltwter Portrait

Mavity family creates Lewes Shells

Seek-and-hide project provides family fun
September 19, 2017

Before the Mavity family can sit down to dinner, they have to clear the dining room table of seashells. And sometimes, they have to clean up beach sand as well.

That might seem odd to most people, but not to the active family who lives outside Lewes. Since July, the originators of Lewes Shells have been painting and hiding shells all over the Lewes area.

It's simple. A message is pasted to the bottom of the shells urging finders to take a photo and post it to the Lewes Shells Facebook page and then re-hide the shell. It's a unique spin-off from other groups and families who paint and hide rocks, including DelaWhere? Rocks! in New Castle County.

Ryan and Rachel Swick Mavity, with their children Alex, 6, and Jane, 3, and Rachel's mother and father, Ken and Anne Terry Swick, are all involvedin the project.

It was Anne who came up with the idea after she found some painted, hidden rocks while she and her husband were visiting relatives in West Virginia.

"I started thinking and thinking about it," she said. "There are no rocks here, but we knew where to get lots of shells."

She said some beaches on the Eastern Shore of Virginia are loaded with a never-ending supply of oyster and clam shells, the primary ones they paint.

Rachel, who is a communications specialist at Beebe Medical Center, was in charge of setting up the Facebook page. "At first, we were painting just basic art, but now we are starting to get a little creative," Rachel said.

They are getting into the spirit of the season by painting back-to-school, football and Halloween shells. They estimate they have painted and hidden at least 250 shells. "We weren't sure what the response would be," Anne said. "It's been so positive. People love it and say it's another reason to love and visit Lewes. Kids want to go outside and hunt for shells," she said.

Anne tries to respond to every post on the Facebook page, and there have been hundreds so far. "It's a family fun thing, and kids get so excited when they find a shell," Anne said.

A recent posting caught their eye. The entire Cape Henlopen field hockey team posed with a shell that was found at the Lewes Dairy Queen.

Rachel said Lewes Shells is an extension of kindness projects spreading in schools across the nation. "We have some positive and inspirational painted shells as well," she said.

It's not only children who are looking for shells. Several posts are from adults who have found shells, including visitors from Tennessee who found two shells on one night.

While most of the shells are hidden in the downtown Lewes area and are found quickly, one shell remained hidden for about six weeks near Old World Breads in Nassau.

"I think people saw it and thought it was supposed to be there," Anne said. "It was found and has moved around lots of times."

The family encourages others to join in the fun. Instructions on how to paint and preserve the shells are on the Facebook page. "The more the merrier," Anne said.

The shells are cleaned and receive a base coat of acrylic paint. Once that has dried, family members can paint messages or artwork. The final step is a coating of Mod Podge to seal the shells and protect them from the weather.

"It's interesting to see how some of the shells travel," Anne said. "Locals tend to re-hide them, but some visitors take them as souvenirs." They know that some of their shells have found new homes in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The family says they will continue to use their kitchen as a work place to paint shells for as long as people are interested in hunting them.