South Bristol Woman Makes True Gifts from the Sea

New Englanders are notoriously thrifty souls, known for saving string and bacon grease. It pains many a Mainer to throw out anything that might, someday, be put to good use. Tenley Seiders of South Bristol understands that notion well. She was working as a sternman with her husband, lobsterman John Seiders, one day about fifteen years ago and noticed once again that many lobsters had dropped a claw.
“Those add up to lost pounds for the lobsterman and it diminishes the value of the lobster because people typically want to buy a whole lobster,” she said. “The meat starts to decay as soon as the claw falls. So it’s a complete loss.” But not to Seiders.
As a child and young woman, Seiders had come to Rutherford Island each summer to stay at her great-grandmother’s home. Down the road from the family’s home lived an older woman whom Seiders quickly adopted as a friend. “I would go down there and hang out with her,” she recalled. During the winter months the woman’s grandson, John, would haul firewood in for Seiders’ great-grandmother. John, the son of a lobsterman, soon had his own boat and gear. Some years later, the two young people met and fell in love.
Seiders moved north from Philadelphia and before long, she was on the stern of her husband’s boat, Comin’ or Goin’, and thinking about lobsters. Earlier she had made jewelry as a side business to her work as a wedding and event planner. Now she considered that craft again. “I played around with the lobster shell, seeing if I could shape it. It took a while, but my husband’s understanding of boat materials and my experience with jewelry finally came together,” she said.  
Seiders takes cooked lobster shell and first pounds the shell, then grinds it fine with a mortar and pestle. She places the result within a setting of sterling silver or 14- or 18-karat gold plate. With advice from her husband, she discovered an epoxy product similar to the gel coat on a fiberglass boat which she uses to embed the crushed shell in its setting. One of the striking elements of Seiders’ jewelry is the strong colors in her pieces. The vibrant red of a cooked lobster comes through loud and clear, not faded as often happens when the shell is long exposed to sun. “I use the same preservative as John does on his buoys,” Seiders laughed. “It’s Filter Ray and it protects from UV light.” The lobster shell comes from her husband and from Isle au Haut lobsterman John DeWitt. A card explaining where the lobster was hauled and by whom is attached to each piece of jewelry.
Seiders remains fascinated by the colors and hues of things found along the beach. She also makes jewelry from mussel and oyster shells, which gleam as if covered in water. “You can’t really improve on the beauty of nature. But it never looks the same when you bring it home,” Seiders said. “I want to recapture that moment of discovery, when you first see something and go, ‘Wow!’” She also wants those who buy her lobster jewelry to understand the complexity of Maine’s lobster fishery. “There are just so many aspects to the industry. I want to get people to realize that there’s more going on than just a lobster dinner off Route 1.”
Marketing her home-made jewelry turned out to involve a learning curve for Seiders. She admits that she has always been something of an entrepreneur, selling dried-flower wreaths made of her own flowers rather than lemonade by the side of the road when she was a child. She started selling her jewelry the same way, from a roadside stand near her home. Soon she was selling at local craft shows and summer fairs. Finally, the day came when she felt her pieces were ready to be in established stores. Seiders cold-called stores she thought might be interested in her one-of-a-kind jewelry, a task that she found not always comfortable. The Island Institute’s craft store, Archipelago, picked up her lobster and mussel pieces and ultimately asked Seiders to be part of the 2016 Artists and Makers conference.
She appreciates being able to make something of beauty while also caring for her two young children, ages 5 and 7. “I’m happy with the size of the business now. I may get up to 25 stores but you have to remember, these are one-of-a-kind things. They aren’t mass produced and they do take some time!”