Showcasing one of the largest collections of Paua shells in the world, the living room in Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s little house was the most famous spot in their little home town of Bluff, New Zealand. Paua shells can be found in the shallow waters around the country’s coast. These massive snails are a big part of New Zealand culture, where their meat is considered a local delicacy and their gorgeously-colored iridescent shells are prized by collectors.
Fred first began collecting Pauas in the 1960s with the intention of selling them, but Myrtle got tired of tripping over the shells that didn’t sell. To get them out of her way, she started attaching them to mirrors and other decorative objects in their home, and she finally struck upon the idea of attaching them to the walls of their little house.
The Shell Lounge was a big local tourist attraction, and the couple gave more than 1,000,000 free tours of the collection over the 37 years that it was open to the public. In gratitude for their contribution to tourism in the area, in 1990 the couple was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the New Zealand Tourist Industry Foundation. Local celebrities, they were featured in TV ads, local television shows, tourist brochures, and even had their own postage stamp.
After the couple died in the early 2000s, their grandson (amidst much controversy) loaned the shell collection to the Canterbury Museum in nearby Christchurch. The exhibit opened in 2008, and faithfully recreated the Flutey’s Shell Lounge, even featuring much of their original furniture and belongings. More than 4000 objects were removed from the original site for reinstallation at the Museum. A short documentary film was produced as part of the exhibition.
You can check out the exhibition on the Canterbury Museum website.