Charlie and his wife, Kristine, both members of the Englewood Shell Club, live in Boca Grande most of the year and visit Illinois from time to time. They both grew up outside of Rockford, Ill. and were friends for many years before marrying. The family has grown since their marriage in the early 1980s, and now includes their four kids – Elizabeth, Alison, Andrea and David – and 10 grandchildren.
His father, Charles, was a shop teacher and a consummate craftsman. His mother, Ruthie, was a very good amateur artist and a seamstress. So it’s perhaps not too surprising that he became an accomplished designer himself, though he didn’t realize he ought to be thinking about design until he was at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis.
“They had a class where you design a residence, and the professor suggested I might be interested to pursue architecture as a career,” he said. “It turns out it was the right thing to do.”
He then transferred to the University of Illinois and graduated with honors with a degree in architecture in 1965. He earned an M.A. at Columbia in 1966 and immediately went to work for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the firm responsible for designing the Hancock building and the Sears Tower, Charlie said. The three years he spent there made him eligible to obtain his professional license.
He moved to Rockford in 1969 and spent years designing projects such as a juvenile detention center, a bus depot, public housing and transportation projects along with many industrial and manufacturing projects. He said one of the parts of those projects he enjoyed most was going to each client’s business and learning about what they did in order to design something that would suit their needs.
Kristine had graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and had since been working for a newspaper in Rockford and doing some promotional work for the firm for which he was a partner, Winters, Barr, and Hynes.
Kristine became his wife and introduced him to Florida in the early 1980s. She had been visiting her grandparents on the east coast, and Sanibel since the early 1960s.
“I’d never been to Florida or been on a beach before then,” he said.
But as an architect and designer his first experience with the shells that line our beaches, with their variety of colors and shapes, was fascinating.
That fascination, Charlie said, grew into a more serious studying and collecting habit. He began making his compositions to serve as a reminder of where he’d been when he returned to Rockford after their visits.
Since then, he’s expanded his range quite a bit.
“We’ve been collecting shells in Florida, Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Fiji and the Philippines,” he said. “Each of these is a reminder of where we’ve been. They’re interesting to have around and look at and they’re also mementos of the places we’ve been and the people we were there with.”
Because they were familiar with Sanibel, it was only natural they’d find their way to the Sanibel Shell Show in 1993, when Charlie began entering shows. He has always entered pieces in both divisions, scientific and artistic, which he said few people do. Sanibel’s show is the largest annual show in the state, held the first or second weekend every March, Charlie said. He is also involved in production there, helping arrange and design layout for more than 200 of the exhibits. The show is typically attended by 4,000 people – even more if it rains.
“Always pray for bad weather,” he joked. “You can’t go to the beach, so people think, ‘Let’s go to the shell show.’”
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