About the Process
Certain types of palm tree leaves have a unique sheath at the bottom most part of the stem. Shelley uses varieties like the Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), the Royal Palm (Roystonea regia), the Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia) and others. After the tree naturally sheds its leaves, she harvests the fallen sheaths. Each has their own unique texture, shape and color. Using water to soften, she begins to sculpt the fiber into its next form, hand stitching each one with raffia or other natural fibers. 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. Encaustic wax finish is a combination of beeswax and Damar tree resin, by using heat, 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 Aboriginal people had access to similar sheathed palms they used to make beautiful water carrying baskets. Shelley continues that tradition with her special "He Ola Wai" series, which means Water is Life in Hawaiian.