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TOWNSHEND — Over 25 years ago, Robert DuGrenier happened upon a hermit crab wearing a broken Coca-Cola bottle as a shell. He was visiting the Bahamas, and the critter scuttled across his beach blanket.

DuGrenier, owner of DuGrenier Custom Glass Designs in Townshend, said he thought he could craft the crustacean a more suitable home, and has been blowing glass shells for hermit crabs ever since. His work has been featured at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, and a glass art exhibit opening at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center Saturday will include a hermit crab shell installation called “Brattlebeach 2121.”

“My aim was to make something that’s beautifully crafted, that would work in collaboration with science and scientists, and hopefully be an educational tool for people to view what it’s like inside of a hermit crab shell,” DuGrenier said. “Glass shells have really led me down a road that is really fascinating and has helped scientists study the world around them.”

Robert DuGrenier, owner of DuGrenier Custom Glass Designs, in Townshend, Vt., makes a glass shell that hermit crabs can live in on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

His venture was not without trial and error. At first, he blew the shell’s spirals in the wrong direction, “left-handed,” which excluded 97 percent of hermit crabs from his creations, he learned.

“I started making them with a right-handed spiral, and pop — they moved in,” he said.

He recalls doing a show in New York City in 1996, where he filled a gallery with sand, and he and viewers got to watch hermit crabs run around and change shells.

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“I’ve been producing them for the last 20 years or so, and improving them as I produce them,” he said.

Jennifer Seavey, executive director of Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island, Maine, where DuGrenier has been an artist in residence, said mixing art and science is helpful for scientists, too.

This past summer, DuGrenier’s residency overlapped with a class on sharks. The students watched DuGrenier make glass designs shaped like shark egg cases, then tried making their own glass egg cases.

“The experience of the 3D structure, and the creativity and the challenge and the fun of making it helps them see things differently,” Seavey said. “It cracks open a way of thinking about nature that you wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t tried to create it.”

The Shoals Marine Laboratory is jointly run by the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University. On a personal note, Seavey said she comes from a family that has both artists and scientists.

“So my whole life has been kind of bouncing between those worlds and seeing how much they have in common,” she said.

More information about DuGrenier and his glass works can be found on his website, dugrenier.com.

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