The Octopus Shell Collector

By Louise Irvine

Glass artist, Josh Fradis, has installed a new underwater garden at WMODA with colorful coral reefs and a shell-collecting octopus. Josh is fascinated by the intelligence of these sentient creatures and was inspired by a scene in the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. In the movie, the octopus disguised itself with shells to escape from its shark predator. 

As well as carrying shells around for protection, common octopuses also collect shells to construct fortresses and “gardens” around their lairs. They have been filmed squeezing inside different types of shells and even closing clams to form body armor when danger approaches. With no internal or external skeleton, a 600 pound octopus can fit through a hole the size of a quarter. Surprisingly, if its beak can fit, through an impossibly small crack or crevice, the rest can follow as shown in videos which went viral on YouTube. 

Josh equates the flexibility of the octopus with the fluidity of molten glass. As he forms the marine creature in blown glass, he is constantly challenged by the versatility and unpredictability of his chosen medium. Glass is an extraordinary material. It is made from opaque sand, yet it is transparent. It behaves like a solid material, but it is also a sort of liquid. 

The common octopus can also thwart attackers by changing its pigment cells to match the colors, patterns, and textures of its surroundings. Sharks, eels, and dolphins swim past without noticing the octopus hiding in plain sight. Josh has captured the creature’s extraordinary ability to camouflage itself by creating his iconic coral caverns in the same vivid hues.  Even the eye of his octopus has a tiny millefiori center. 

Josh blows bubbles of glass to make his Coral Caverns inspired by the natural shapes of Florida’s ocean reefs. Creating the caverns is an exciting process as Josh forces the molten hot glass into thermal shock by dipping it into cold water. This produces the deep fissures which expose the brilliant interior colors. Josh’s Coral Caverns are sold at the WMODA shop and his new Octopus Shell Collector can also be purchased as a complete installation or commissioned in separate parts. 

Josh’s vivid interpretations of coral formations draw attention to our critically endangered reefs, which are dying of disease and global warming. Fortunately, the City of Hollywood is tackling the problem this summer by deploying an artificial reef in collaboration with the Ocean Rescue Alliance and the 1000 Mermaids Project. 


Watch Josh Fradis make The Shell Collector installation at the Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts.

Watch an octopus escape from a shell

Watch an octopus escape through a hole in a boat 

Read more about the octopus in art.