John Cooper draws on his shells while sitting at one of the tables at Apalachicola’s Riverfront Park. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Drawing with a soft touch on hard shells

They’re not made in China and they’re not made by a machine.

Rather, the calloused hands of a longtime oysterman detail the vivid images on oyster shells, using just pens of different colors and an appreciative eye for the fine details of the shrimp boats and oyster boats that once flourished in Franklin County.

Most days of the week, John Cooper can be seen at Riverfront Park in Apalachicola, using a set of plain Bic pens, or sometimes pencils, or even acrylics painted with fine brushes, to adorn his shells, each one hand-signed.

He carries his art supplies in the basket of his bicycle and makes his handiwork available for just $10 each. Some lie flat on the surface, other shells are of such an unusual formation that they stand upright on their own.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Cooper. “I love to do it and I have a lot of years in it.

“I love the before and after,” he said. “I can look back and see what I’ve done.”

Cooper’s images are not hurried scrawls. He adds details, like writing the horsepower of the oyster boat motor atop it, or transforming the black dot eye of the shell into the trawls and outriggers of a shrimp boat.

Cooper said he’s evolved his longtime hobby into a way of making a living because it’s difficult for a man his age to find work, especially with the bay being closed. 

“I’d work the bay,” he said. “If they let me.”

To find out more about Cooper’s artwork, call him at (850) 653-7798.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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