Every year when I went to visit my parents' home in Naples, Florida, I would look forward to spending time with this book, Sailors' Valentines by John Fondas, which my mother always had sitting out on the table. And we would look through this beautiful, octagon-shaped book and marvel at all of the beautiful sailors' valentines it contained and talk about trying to make one of these valentines ourselves.
So, this past March while visiting my Dad, I noticed that the book was no longer sitting out. I went in search of it and found it tucked in a cabinet under the bookshelf. I pulled it out and looked at it again, thinking how Mom and I never got the chance to make one of these valentines...and that's when the idea of A Daughter's Valentine was born. I wanted to make a piece of embroidery, using shells and pearls and jewels, with the spirit of a sailor's valentine and I decided to make it my bead journal piece for August in honor of my Mom's birthday.
Sailors' Valentines were popular in the mid-nineteenth century when sailors would leave home to voyage on glorious sailing ships to seek trade and treasures in far off worlds. Folklore says that these valentines were originally made by the sailors themselves and brought back for loved ones at home. Original sailors' valentines are highly prized by collectors today and many of them can be traced back to merchants on the island of Barbados between 1830 and 1880 -- a port of call for American, English and Dutch trading ships.
Here are two examples by Grace Madeira who also co-authored another great book on the subject: Sailors' Valentines Their Journey Through Time which contains many contemporary examples being created and sold by modern artists.
Interestingly enough, these early examples were always in the shape of an octagon and, for the life of me, I can't find out why. The octagon is the quintessential sailor's valentine shape and so I have used that shape as the beginning of my interpretation.
The octagon often has the symbolic meaning of rebirth, regeneration and transition -- and the symbolism of the number eight is eternal life. One source I read says that the circle is symbolic of the heavens (also eternity/infinity) and the angularity of the square is symbolic of earthly presence. So, the octagon, which borrows from both shapes, symbolizes the transitional dance between heaven and earth. How cool is that? It's coincidences such as this one that lead me to believe that my hands really do receive divine guidance in my work.
I like the significance that the octagon shape gives to my work...and I love the metaphor of the valentine connecting loved ones who are separated by vast oceans.
I was also very pleased with how my shading turned out...a beautiful aqua ocean for the rest of my work.
And one more thing. The only time I have ever seen an antique sailor's valentine in person was on a visit to The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel island (it's fabulous!) which, I'm not kidding, is in the shape of an octagon!
Coincidence? I just don't know...