Treasures from the ocean turn up in the most unusual places.
How about in South Troy, in a Plain Jane neighborhood more than 100 miles from the Atlantic?
This marine magic happens only once a month, when a 10-foot-tall sign in wild tropical colors rises from the sidewalk in front of a former furniture store that’s decorated with waves of bright blue paint.
“Jewels of the Sea” is a homemade museum where visitors are welcome to gaze at seashells from all over world and other natural wonders of the deep, from sea stars and sea urchins to horseshoe crabs and corals.
Created by Ron Glasser, a Watervliet resident who has been collecting shells for more than 35 years with his wife, Kathy, the year-round exhibit contains 1,000 seashells representing 800 species.
The show appears infrequently because the exhibit space is in Discovery Hall, a community room for a writers group and classes in pottery, yoga and martial arts. Coming dates are April 18 and 19, and May 17 and 18.
When it’s seashell time, visitors hear the recorded sounds of the ocean and get a personal tour.
“This is the fossil section, I like to go from ancient times to modern times,” Glasser says, pointing to a two-foot-long rock slab embedded with fossilized shells.
Then comes the parade of sea shells, in myriad colors, shapes and sizes, displayed on tables covered with sand from Cape Cod. Below the tables, with wire and wood, Glasser has built what looks like a beach fence you’d find along the dunes.
Shells are grouped by their scientific family, but most are not labeled.
“I’ll tell you what they are,” says Glasser.
He wants visitors to have a surprise encounter.
“You’re walking along the beach, you see a shell. Wow! That first initial ‘Wow!’ That’s discovery,” he says.
Limpets, razor clams, conch, cowries, cone shells and whelks. There are scallop shells in hues of orange, purple and yellow; an irridescent abalone and a green turban shell as big as a softball.
Hand-held magnifying glasses allow viewers to study tiny specimens and intricate patterns.
If Glasser can’t answer your question, the walls are covered with posters, charts and photographs about oceans and sea life.
Ever see the guts of a loggerhead turtle? Do you know about fibonacci, the mathematical sequence that describes the spiral shape of a seashell?
Glasser’s favorite is the “Wall of Sea Exploration,” tracing the history of deep sea adventure and exploits, from Jules Verne’s imaginings of a underwater breathing device to the scuba world of Jacques Cousteau.
“Jewels of the Sea” may be homespun and low-tech, but it’s high on enthusiasm and information.
“No one has ever gone away unsatisfied,” says Glasser.
“ ‘Look at this, look at that,’ they say. You see the expression on their faces change when they’ve discovered something.”
Seashell collectors, nature lovers, neighborhood kids and school groups have encountered the exhibit. There was a surge of interest when it opened in November 2012, but it has ebbed since then, Glasser says, with about 150 visitors overall.
“Some stay 15-20 minutes, others spend an hour or more. Some take photos.”
The Glassers gather many of their shells in Cape Cod, where they are regular visitors from spring to fall, and they pick up others whenever they are near an ocean.
“We have collected from Canada to Key West and to Alaska once,” he says.
About 15 percent of the shells they collected themselves, the rest were purchased. Glasser found his largest shell, a 15-inch-long false trumpet, on a clearance shelf at the HomeGoods store in Latham. In the sea, the false trumpet is the home of the world's largest gastropod and can measure up to three feet.
The Glassers, who have two grandchildren, launched Discovery Hall in 2009 to provide continuing education for adults and children.
“We’ve had everything, from math to cheese-making,” Glasser says.
He teaches meditation and martial arts. The building, which once housed the Feiden furniture company and then Troy Cabinetmakers, is also the workshop for Glasser’s Creation Inc., an architectural and antiques restoration business.
Every month, it takes Glasser two to three hours to set up the sea show. When asked why he does it, he doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s part of who I am; nature and discovery and learning about our world.”
Today’s children and adults are surrounded by too much technology and not enough nature and hands-on discovery of the world, he says.
“It can all go away when you turn the lights out,” he says. “This is real, this is it. This is where it all comes from.”