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Learning Shell Etching With Seniors and Youth

After the designs were finished in pencil, individuals went over them with nail polish.

The Salt River Senior Center and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Cultural Resources Program have teamed up to host New Pathways for Seniors and Youth. The goal is to bring seniors and youth together to work on maintaining cultural traditions.

Classes were held on September 16 and 23 at the Senior Center Recreation Room, where instructor and Community member Jacob Butler taught the seniors and youth how to properly do shell etching, a traditional O’odham craft.

Jacob Butler instructs the shell-etching class held at the Salt River Senior Center. The program’s objective is to get seniors and youth to interact with each other. Youth and seniors shared their pieces with each other during the morning.
Participants selected a shell from those provided and then reviewed different designs they could use on their shells. With pencils, they did their best to carefully draw the designs onto the shells. The youth and seniors interacted with each other, sharing their ideas and comments about the designs.

In attendance were some of the members of the Young River People’s Council. “President Ray requested that [Community youth and seniors] come together and build that relationship,” shared youth advisor Christine Porter. “So we have done meet-and-greet sessions, a pottery class, and the shell etching now.”

Youth and seniors sit together and interact during the New Pathways for seniors and youth class on shell etching.
“I liked this class. My mother used to do this, and I didn’t remember the proper steps, so I took this class today,” said senior Karen James. “I still have my mother’s shells to this day. It was great to work along with the youth.”

After everyone completed their designs, Butler had them carefully go over the designs with nail polish. Then, the shells were put in solutions overnight to make the designs more visible.

“I wanted to see if there was anything new or different about shell etching,” said Yolanda James. “It’s interesting history on how the O’odham people were the first ones to do this type of artwork, and I’m glad it has caught the attention of the younger people, because I see a lot of cultural identity issues and I’m glad they are taking part.”

Yolanda James carefully adds a design to her shell.