“Oh, no!” I cried in horror, “His leg fell off!”
I was standing on a pier, circa early '00s, or oughts, or however we’re referencing the past decade, with a crab’s leg dangling sadly between my thumb and forefinger. The task at hand concerned the routine maintenance of a floating bag of baby oysters my friend, Lori, was rearing throughout their fragile infancy for eventual open water release, in the hopes that they would band with myriad of their adult friends to do what they do best: filter pollutants from the sea. Our task was to check in on the babies periodically, to make sure that the mesh holes in their temporary habitat didn’t become clogged, and to ward off predators, such as the guy whose leg snapped off in my hand.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” I wailed.
To my dismay, Lori, and my daughter, working alongside her, both began to laugh.
“It will grow back,” Lori explained, to my amazement and relief.
That was my first lesson about the resiliency of the common crab. My second unfolded over recent weeks through a different sort of hands on experience.
When I decided upon a mosaic crab to round out my ill-fated gallery portfolio, I took it for a quick in-and-out operation. The design was a simple enlargement of a crustacean featured in a bathroom beach scene I designed for my own home. I already had the tile, and the requisite project disaster behind me, to boot, in my collection of twice-fired blues.
Things got off to a great start. At one point, I began to hope I might get the bulk of the project cranked out in one solid day of work. ..until I realized that nothing in my vast stock of stained glass squares I use for edging matched the deep navy tile I’d chosen the crab’s leg and pinchers.
What to do, what to do? There was no time to order more, and there exist no local outlets for such supplies in my community. This news sort of excited me, really, because I’ve come to discover that the best ideas often come when the Original Plan heads south. Even though a good 24 hours passed without a viable idea, I remained calm and optimistic as I waited for the moment that it presented, quietly and without fanfare, the way the best ideas do. Why not cover the legs and pinchers in sand colored grout and dip them in real sand, rendering a fresh-from-the-beach look for my sea-dwelling creation? And, for consistency, why not fill the cracks between the tiles with the same sand colored grout?
Colored grout is an effect I use sparingly. Ninety percent of the time, I find standard white to be the best option. Every now and then, though? It can really add that special something. I hoped this was one of those times.
I use an all-in-one adhesive and grout product for my pieces, rather than a fixative and a separate grout. It’s easier and less expensive. Better yet? The color is easily transformed by simply mixing in a few drops of acrylic paint. I should have done this.
However, I had a powdered grout on hand-- left over from a household project, that possessed the seemingly desirable characteristic of actually bearing the color name “sand.” I remembered a positive experience with a powdered grout product a handful of years back—likely around the time the oyster-picking crab left his limb in the grasp of my thumb—and decided to give it a try.
Note to self: when under a deadline, stick with what you know. When dry, the powdered grout possessed a certain crumbling property, and—with T-22 hours to spare, I was digging loose, flaky grout from all the crab’s crevices with a sharp tool. Fortunately, the grout was so poor, this task wasn’t as hard as it would seem.
A few drops of burnt umber mixed into my Regular Product made for better sand than the color labeled as such. I dipped the crab’s left legs into the real sand, and it adhered beautifully. We were looking at a Case Closed.
Until I turned my attention to the right legs, and began carefully spreading the sand-hued grout over his limbs. It’s hard to say exactly when or how it happened, but I suddenly found myself standing in my studio with a crab’s leg dangling sadly between my thumb and forefinger.
“It will grow back.” I attempted to savor the relief as the comforting echo reached me from the pier, but logic prevailed. My next move was an attempt to embrace the same excitement that fueled the Sand Edging Innovation, but it didn’t take. My third move was to reach for the wood glue, remembering my husband’s claim that, dried, the stuff is actually stronger than wood.
My approach, I’m afraid, was a bit heavy handed. My guy ended up swimming in a whole sea of the stuff. My husband’s cheery review that the glue would dry stronger than wood haunted me as I watched it flow across my counter, but I counted on the newspapers to contain it for me—the reattachment was at too delicate a stage to interrupt.
Although my ceramic crustacean didn’t exactly grow a new leg, the successful operation was the next best thing. He showed up at the gallery on time with all appendages intact. Although he weathered all physical threats, his good fortune did not carry into the gallery review.
Even though the crab and his other company in my portfolio did not earn the favor of the board and the accompanying ongoing display at the gallery, my daughter reminded me of an additional lifeline.
Turns out the next gallery show is an artistic celebration of my city and will feature pieces depicting various local elements. As fate would have, the symbol for my urban waterfront village happens to be—you guessed it—the humble crab.
Scorned as I’ve been, I’m rather reluctant to submit my crab for the show, even after my daughter reminded me of one of her “favorite childhood stories” wherein a piece of writing I submitted to a magazine was rejected by the editor under no uncertain terms and was subsequently entered into a contest in which it took first place. The best part? I was presented with a silver bowl and cash prize from the hands of the editor himself.
Although it’s fun to picture the gallery board forking over an award and eating a large amount of crow, I’ve decided that I’m just not up for paying the entry fee right now, strictly on principal.
He may eventually wind up in my upcoming etsy store, but for right now, he’s a nice fit in one of the bathrooms, but we’ll see where things go from here. Crabs, I’ve discovered, are rather resilient.