I met Stefan, a local teacher and designer of stunning hand-carved oyster shells. He had an amazing display of carved oyster shells at the Heritage Festival. I was mesmerized immediately, but having just arrived was reluctant to drop any money on souvenirs. We chatted in broken French/English and I instantly liked him. He told me where he lived so I could look at his entire collection.
My new friends decided to come with me to visit Stefan, after I shared my enthusiasm about his work. They too were intrigued and wanted to see more. So, we set out to find Stefan. Behind the blue church, across a small bridge, and down the street we arrived at his house and studio.
Stefan’s Hand-Carved Oyster Shell Business
He and his wife just started a small business a few months ago. When we arrived, they put out a black table cloth and lovingly laid out each of the 40+ unique, hand-carved oyster shells. Some were carved on the outside, some on the inside, and a few on both sides. He used pearls as legs to raise some of the shells as well.
You can see a larger collection of Stefan’s work on Instagram @Gambierscarving.
It is difficult to imagine how they are able to carve such intricate designs onto these extremely fragile shells.
They are playing around with new designs as well. Check out this lamp with the St. Michael church.
He is also carving individual pearls. This is a new Tahitian trend that is becoming wildly popular.
In addition to the hand-carved oyster shells and pearls, he also had a warrior necklace and local honey for sell. By the time we were all done, the group had purchased 15 items from him and put a large dent in his inventory. He had invited us back the next day to see how the carving process was done.
Early the next day, 6 of us headed back to Stefan’s house.
The Process of Carving an Oyster Shell
- Stefan purchases bags of oyster shells and discards the damaged and broken ones. The remaining shells are left in a pile in his yard, by his shop for future master pieces.
- The shells are then scrubbed clean on both sides.
- Then the exterior is sanded down
- Buffed to a pretty shine (both sides)
- Designed (pencil first, then ink)
- Ready to sell
A gift to visiting delegates
Stefan is presenting a gift to a group of politicians coming to the island. It is an oyster shell sitting on top of another shell. And oh how I wished to be the recipient of one of those stunning pieces. We watched as his worker drew the design on one of the shells. The photo below shows her drawing the design (upper left), a damaged shell that was punctured) and the final shell (bottom)
Trying my hand at carving
He let me have a go at trying to carve a shell. It was really difficult to use the dremel on such a delicate shell. But, I managed not to damage me or the shell. It didn’t look really pretty, but I made it.
Stefan had a container full of “discarded” or “bad” pearls. We did not understand how can a pearl be so bad that it is relegated to a container or vase? They have funny shapes, colors, no luster or odd sizes. He graciously allowed us to select 10 pearls each!
And as a special bonus for bringing so many people to his home to purchase his wares, he provided me with a beautiful, personalized oyster shell of my own.
Stefan became a great friend to all of us. He introduced us to many local resources, shared plenty of meals, enjoyed a few BBQ’s and created lots of god memories.
That’s just a smidgeon of the kindness we have received in the Gambiers. The locals are kind, the island is beautiful, and life is good.
Here are few of Stefan’s amazing pieces of art:
Did you miss our blog on French Polynesia Pearls? Click here.