The du Pont Trophy
On the edge of science, collections and art: the du Pont Trophy paintings, original works by artist Lauren Sweeney, honor outstanding exhibits at shell shows
The specimens found in natural history collections straddle the edge between art and science. Collectors may be inspired to pick up a shell and put it in their pocket because it strikes them as beautiful. But with the addition of some simple data such as date and location, the shells become a record of biodiversity and an essential scientific resource.
Shells in the research collection of the Delaware Museum of Natural History are the artistic inspiration for the du Pont Trophy, an award given at shell shows for the overall outstanding exhibit. In 2012, the Trophy was reimagined as a print of shells from the research collection. The original, commissioned watercolors that are the basis for the 2012-2020 trophies are pictured below.
Artist’s Bio: Lauren Sweeney’s paintings are inspired by a lifetime of scientific observation. Originally a biologist who focused her talents on research, teaching, and technical illustrations, Lauren is now a full-time artist who has exhibited her work in the greater Philadelphia area. Her work has been exhibited at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, the Sketch Club, Gallery Twenty Two, and the Main Line Art Center.
Purchase: If you are interested in purchasing one of these original watercolors for the du Pont Trophy award, please contact Elizabeth Shea at 302-658-9111 x319 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Framed watercolor paintings are $650 each, and all sales support Collections and Research at the Museum.
The 2020 du Pont Trophy features the internal shell of Spirula spirula, a deep sea cephalopod commonly referred to as ram’s horn squid. They are more often collected as shells than as live organisms. S. spirula was selected for the painting in recognition of research projects conducted by two Widener University students, Catherine Beresford and Taylor Hasslett, with Curator of Mollusks Liz Shea, Ph.D. and Widener biology professor Dr. Janice Krumm.
While there is only one species of Spirula currently recognized, early conclusions found significant differences between specimens found in Temperate
Northern Atlantic and Tropical Atlantic ecoregions. The study suggests there may be more than one species, and recommends future research with larger sample sizes.
This year, the du Pont Trophy depicts Tellina radiata, a bivalve mollusk commonly known as the Sunrise Tellin, from the Alison Bradford collection, bequeathed to DMNH by Alison Bradford, a longtime volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees. Bradford had been at the Museum for over 30 years.
She passed away in the summer of 2018 and transferred her collection of more than 1,000 shells to the Museum, most collected in Gasparilla Island, Florida, where she owned a home. “To honor Alison's service here, we wanted to feature a beautiful shell of hers,” said Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D., the Museum’s Curator of Mollusks. “She worked hard for the Museum and its collection. This year’s trophy tells a story about Alison and is also appealing to shell enthusiasts.”
The pearlescent marine sea snail abalone is the inspiration for the 2018 du Pont Trophy, featuring two specimens of the green abalone Haliotis fulgens Philippi, 1845 (DMNH 10958). These specimens have a beautiful nacreous layer and were selected by the Museum’s first Mollusk Curator, R. Tucker Abbott, for illustration in the second edition of American Seashells, published in 1974, an essential resource for shell lovers and an important part of the Museum’s history.
The 2017 du Pont trophy was based on shells owned by renowned Delaware illustrator Frank Schoonover, a gift from one of his most well-known clients, Irénée du Pont, owner of Granogue in Delaware and the fabled Xanadu mansion in Cuba, where the shells were collected. The shells were donated to the Museum in December 2015 by Schoonover’s grandson John Schoonover.
Mailed from Granogue, du Pont’s Delaware estate, the tiny box is addressed simply to "Mr. Frank E. Schooner, 1616 Rodney St., City." Inside were nine Cuban land snail shells and a small round box with four tiny shells. DMNH has a sizeable collection of Cuban land snail shells. “These shells are a wonderful addition to the Museum’s collection from both a historical as well as a scientific perspective,” said Liz Shea, Ph.D, Curator of Mollusks.
Built in the 1920s, Xanadu remained a du Pont estate for many years until the Cuban revolution. It is now a tourist attraction. Schoonover visited Xanadu in 1931 and gave du Pont a small watercolor of Xanadu as a thank you for his hospitality. In 1934, Schoonover painted pirate-themed murals still at the mansion, “The Pirates Dance Ashore” and “The Capture of the Galleon.”