Nautilus Catalogue

Reviewed by:
lauren c. molina, Digital Assets and Records Manager
Autry Museum of the American West

The aim of Nautilus Catalogue is to provide a database of Nautilus pompilius shells-turned-art object by aggregating information from a variety of disparate collections – and it does exactly this. Created by independent art historian Marsley Kehoe, Nautilus Catalogue consists of a web-based database and downloadable dataset that expands on on Hanns-Ulrich Mette’s 1995 catalogue of nautilus shells.

Text from the ‘About Shells and Mounts’ page of Nautilus Catalogue which lists common terminology terms in bolded text and following each term, defines the common term as used within the website

Kehoe explains the Nautilus Catalogue in detail on three of the resource’s five web pages. Most helpful of all are the “Common terminology” (NautilusCatalogue_3.png) section of the “About Nautilus Shells and Mounts” page and the “How to use this Catalogue” page in its entirety. Reading the text at both of the aforementioned pages makes the experience of using this resource more meaningful (although it is not at all required).

Three records and thumbnail images displayed on Nautilus Catalogue which were returned when searching for ‘coral, figure’ in the search bar under the main menu at the left of the page.

Built with WordPress and Omeka by importing CSV data, the Nautilus Catalogue successfully achieves what Kehoe has set out to do. This free resource displays true to itself across devices and browsers. It is unfettered by any special media viewers that might otherwise make it difficult to translate from desktop to handheld device, giving the user freedom of continued access from any place. There is an easy and effective search bar below the menu panel of this site, which allows the visitor to explore the items of this digital collection using one or many terms (NautilusCatalogue_1.png). The home page does not immediately present image(s) before the user begins their journey by navigating to the “Browse Items” page or by dreaming up a search term to find an item. This site is heavy with text to assert its purpose; text that reads easily, yet at its length may feel somewhat overwhelming to a visitor favoring the image. However lengthy the text is, it informs the user what can be found within Nautilus Catalogue, how to find it, and why it is presented. While this reviewer wonders if a more image-dominant web design might benefit the resource (perhaps with images inserted within the body of the text on the home page), the textual data found within provides detailed information pertaining to each nautilus object, which may be more relevant to audiences aligned with Kehoe’s own scholarship as an art historian. Most entertaining of Kehoe’s decisions with this resource is the choice to include a word cloud within the “Browse by Tag” section on the “Browse Items” page where terms are shown at scale. The word cloud (NautilusCatalogue_2.png) visualizes the catalogue when individual records may still lack images of the objects themselves to view. The word cloud also reveals that stripping shells, whether selectively or wholly, is a common practice in the creation of these objects.

Text which has been assembled into a word cloud that can be seen by clicking on the ‘Browse by Tag’ tab on the ‘Browse Items’ page of Nautilus Catalogue

A variety of audiences may benefit from this resource: curators, collectors, history scholars, and shell and oddities enthusiasts. Nautilus Catalogue is Kehoe’s attempt to “make sense” of this broadly collected and somewhat obscure type of object. It is an interesting starting place to begin to consider some of the motives behind the European fascination with exoticism and ornament, or museological histories, or specialized crafts, or a number of other reasons why this specific kind of object was made, prized, utilized, and/or presented. Despite (and perhaps because) Nautilus Catalogue is a very pared down, straight-forward resource, it has the promise of being a site where historical, conservational, art, and cultural research might converge upon these curious items.