Sinclair Library welcomes new natural history exhibit on marine shells

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Michael B. Thomas, (808) 956-4168
Curator - Natural Science, Botany
Karen Kosasa, (808) 956-8676
Associate Professor, Museum Studies
Posted: Jun 1, 2015

Numerous Cowry species on display in the shell allure exhibit.
Numerous Cowry species on display in the shell allure exhibit.

Marking the culmination of two years of cooperation among library staff and faculty from across the Mānoa campus, shell allure has officially opened in the first-floor lobby of Sinclair Library. The permanent exhibition highlights the biological diversity of hundreds of Hawaiian marine shells and their history of use as tools and decorations. The collection on display comprises more than 150 species of marine mollusk shells collected from the Kame‘ole Beach Park II area on Maui.

Amateur shell collector Jim Fenske donated this extensive mollusk shell collection to the University of Hawai‘i in 2013. Fenske requested that the collection be displayed in a public library and used by students and researchers for biological reference. In preparation for the collection’s transfer and display, Fenske approached Dr. Michael B. Thomas, a researcher in the UHM Botany Department who was previously involved in creating a digital exhibition of the Marine Shell Collection for the Anthropology Department’s Archaeology Lab. Thomas curated Fenske’s specimen collection and developed the Sinclair Library exhibit with the help of students from the UHM Museum Studies Program. Thomas also plans to digitize Fenske’s collection in the future, making it more widely available for research and instruction via Flickr.

Also instrumental in preparing the exhibit for Sinclair Library was Tom Klobe, Emeritus Professor of Art and Art History, former director of the University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery, and nationally recognized exhibition designer. Klobe, assisted by Museum Studies intern Jason Foberg, developed the exhibit design and created the labeling and written narrative for shell allure.

In November 2014, Fenske explained the origins of his unique collection: “I became interested in biology in the 1970s when I occasionally helped a good friend in Florida with his shell collection. I found collecting interesting and educational. When I got to Hawai‘i and became a certified scuba diver, I met two Native Hawaiians with whom I frequently dove. They introduced me to some of the shells and the subject fascinated me. I bought a book on Hawaiian shells and decided it would be great to collect samples of all the shells in the book. I didn’t quite get all of them but certainly got a majority, to which this exhibit testifies. After having them for more than 40 years I decided a better use would be to offer them to UH. I’m glad I made that decision and that you are able to witness this incredible display of biological diversity.”

Exhibition Acknowledgements
Donor: James Fenske
Exhibit Designer: Tom Klobe
Curator: Michael B. Thomas, PhD
Student Assistants: Jason Foberg and Reko Libby
Museum Studies Program Director: Karen Kosasa, PhD
Library Exhibit Committee Members: Joey Brenner and Jack Kormos

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