As an artistic craft, shell mosaic is relatively new, drawing its materials from the vast numbers of shells found on the shores of rivers, lakes and seas.
Shells had a special value in China since primitive times. They were used as personal ornaments and as money. Huobi, the China expression for "currency" or "legal tender", still contain in their characters an element which stands for "shell". Today, to the artistic eye of people of the trade, shells are still a treasure. Two categories of products come out of shell mosaic decorative pictures and art objects for daily use.
The pictures are traditional Chinese paintings expressed in an assembly of shells. They follow the same principles of composition and depict the same subjects (human figures, landscapes, flowers, birds, pavilions and towers. Only the means of expression here are shells, which are carefully selected for shape and colour, meticulously worked on, and pieced and stuck together to form the images. The resulting picture is in teas relief and rich in Chinese flavour.
In the course of the development of the craft, the artist has come to appreciate the intricate colour structures of various shells. Some show alluring undertones through their main colours, one on the outside and another on the inside-for instance, black and red, amber and violet-which he puts to good use and gives the pictures either colourful magnificence or quiet elegance as required.
The second branch of shell mosaic specializes in producing art articles for practical use, such as desk lamps, jewel boxes and other shell utensils.
The best-known shell products are turned out at the moment by the Dalian Shell Carving Factory in Northeast China.