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They Fall from the Trees!

"I love that my raw material is completely sustainable, and honors the life of the that unique leaf," says Shelley, "with the mother tree still living and breathing on Hawaii island, my artwork is a respectful way to take home a piece of Hawaii and help someone feel connected to the islands even when far away."

Certain types of palm tree leaves attach to the trunk with a leaf base or sheath. Varieties such as the Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), the Royal Palm (Roystonea regia), the Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia) and many others discard a sheath with every leaf that falls.

The sheaths can be anywhere from one foot to over six feet long!

After harvesting the naturally fallen sheaths, Shelley carefully cleans them, taking note of their unique texture, size, shape and color, which will vary based on the type of Palm. Using water to soften, she begins to sculpt the fiber into its next form, hand stitching each one with raffia or other natural fibers.  It's a type of dance as she pushes and they pull, and she coaxes the sheath into its next form.  After drying naturally the material begins to contract into its new shape, always inspiring the artist as she contemplates its final form and design. 

Because of the unique nature  of individual sheaths, there are no two the same; everything Shelley makes is an individual work of art.  Each piece is numbered, signed and sealed with either an museum quality encaustic wax or a durable hand rubbed polyurethane finish.

Finishes: Shelley uses two types of finishes. Hand rubbed satin polyurethane provides a long lasting finish and can be reapplied. It does not change the natural sheen of the fiber.   A more time consuming, yet archival finish is clear encaustic wax, which is a combination of beeswax and Damar tree resin. She then uses heat as the wax and resin are fused into the plant fibers.


Did the Hawaiians use these in their basket making?  No, they didn't, but other cultures did.

Hawaii's only native palm is the Loulu, other varieties, even the coconut is an introduced species by early Polynesian settlers. But the Royal Palm was the first palm with a sheath to come to the islands. According to Judd family legend: On September 9th, 1850, Dr. G.P. Judd had returned to the islands with Princes Alexander Liholiho and Lot Kamehameha, from a mission in Europe in the interests of securing a treaty of independence for the Hawaiian Kingdom. When Mrs. Judd was shaking out his clothes, these round seeds fell out of his pockets. He explained they were from a beautiful palm tree in Kingston, Jamaica, and he had a young boy climb the Royal Palm and get him seeds. Mrs. Judd then planted the seed where the parent tree still stands today.  The grandmother palm is still there, and acted as the mother plant of many of the Royal palms planted all over the islands.  Now, the Royal Palm has a special place in Hawaii and is on the state seal, as well as being the inspiration in the design of the State Capital. 

In Jamaica, the Royal Palm was used for roofing and and hut walls.  In modern times, you will also see disposable plates and bowls made from palm sheath in India.  In Australia, the ever resourceful First Nations people had access to similar sheathed palms they used to make beautiful water carrying baskets from the Bangalow Palm.  Shelley continues that tradition with her special "He Ola Wai" series, which means Water is Life in Hawaiian.