Sea of Love by Libby Boren McMillan
Handsome glass vessels filled with shiny seashells and baskets brimming with perfect sand dollars are more than predictable décor in Pam and Clark Rambo’s sunny Sanibel Island home. The thoughtful arrangements reflect a shared fascination with gifts from the sea that started in childhoods far apart.
I’ve been shelling since I can remember,” says Clark, a commercial real estate broker. “He had one of those little books where you glue your shells to the outlines,” artist/entrepreneur Pam interjects with a playful smile.
Clark’s boyhood shelling days were along the shores of NewJersey, Maryland and Maine. Pam found her first keepers on Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Georgia’s Jekyll Island. Clark has also shelled Australia’s Pacific coast, and together they’ve successfully scoured the beaches of Belize, the Upper Keys and even unlikely Miami for the objects of their desire. It’s only fitting that at a recent family reunion, Pam learned her maternal family crest is — what else?—a scallop shell.
MIRROR, MIRROR …
The most dramatic reflection of the Rambos’ mutual obsession catches the eye of all who step into the inviting great room. Framing an oversized mirror on the wall, 1,000 fragile worm shells, twisted Seuss-like treasures that Pam painstakingly glued into place, twirl and snake outward.
Normally tough to find with their pointy tips intact, the worm shells for this grand project were deposited on a local out island during a particularly fortuitous stormseason a few years back. The Rambos, who boat and shell nearly every weekend, came upon the mother lode one memorable weekend. “In one day, we found 763 worm shells!” Pam marvels. Clark quickly emphasizes that he uncovered more than 500 of the cache; Pam just laughs and says, “With us, it’s always a competition.”
Several return trips to the secret “treasure island” yielded a few hundred more of the corkscrew-like collectibles, perfectly preserved. Then inspiration struck. “I probably spent 180 hours gluing worm shells on that mirror,” says Pam, adding with a look that indicates even she is incredulous, “It took three months.”
A BEACH BACKGROUND
The Rambos met and married in Virginia Beach, Va., where Pam worked for 10 years as a visual merchandiser for major department stores, and Clark owned the Banana Boat distributorship for Bermuda and 13 U.S. states. They moved to Miami’s trendy Coconut Grove for another sunscreen business opportunity and from there migrated west to Sanibel in 2001.
During their first couple of years on the Gulf Coast, Pam had her own retail venture. Kirby Rambo Collections showcased fun and functional art, including hand-painted bowls, wine-bottle toppers and door stops she created in her home studio. Now she wholesales her work and takes private commissions, and is still quick to recommend the artists whose work she sold in the gallery/shop.
REFRESH, REPURPOSE, ENJOY!
While seashells and the sea establish a soothing coastal theme throughout their home, the Rambos’ uncluttered island abode also showcases a light-hearted art collection, some of it reflecting the passion for a good treasure hunt. With her signature creative TLC, Pam has turned many castoffs into objets d’art.
An oil painting by American impressionist R.A. Kissack, suitably framed after Pam found it rolled up in a Norfolk, Va., Salvation Army store, occupies a place of importance in the great room, where a formerly formal high boy wears several coats of paint applied with Pam’s whimsical touch. Nearby, a once-plain mannequin, duly christened “Ms. Boom Boom Buttonz” after embellishments by Pam, watches over family pets Smitty and Dustball as they stretch and roll on the sun-warmed bamboo floor.
In the dining area, a consignment-shop curtain rod has been transformed with painted “fish scales” in aqua, cobalt, navy, gold and silver. Finials shaped like a fish head and tail completed the look before white drapes were added. The colorful chandelier over the dining-room table was rescued from a junk sale at the Sanibel Community Center; Pam made a series of fused-glass pendants while taking a class at BIG Arts and used them to replace the fixture’s original faux-crystal baubles.
There’s no doubt about it, though: The showstopper in the Rambo’s island home is the worm shell mirror that literally reaches out to admirers. Despite all the hours that project consumed, worm shell fever is still in evidence, as the downstairs studio reveals another mirror under way.
Hundreds of worm shells in “inventory” make this mirror possible, Pam says. Any subsequent mirrors, she adds, will necessitate another shelling mission—something for which the Rambos’ 21-foot ProLine center-console is always ready.