If the winter grays have you hankering for a glimpse of beach life, head to the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus at Richland. There, more than 200 miles from Washington’s coast—or just a few clicks down the Internet road—you’ll find the Gladys Archerd Shell Collection. Looking at the incredible variety of whorls, spikes, and splashes of color, you can almost hear the gulls calling and feel the sand between your toes.
The collection was the lifelong passion of Gladys Doy Archerd, whose fascination with shells began in the early 1900s with childhood walks along the shores of the Olympic Peninsula. Over the years she became so knowledgeable about shell taxonomy, that Stanford University enlisted her aid in organizing its shell collection.
Today, the collection Archerd started includes about 65,000 shells representing 60 major families of mollusks. It emphasizes shells of the Pacific Rim, but also includes shells such as the chambered nautilus and other exotic forms that Archerd obtained by swapping with fellow collectors all over the world.
After her death in 1983, her daughter, Artis Archerd Vaughan, and son-in-law, Burton Vaughan, donated the collection to WSU Tri-Cities. Mr. Vaughan, an adjunct professor of biological sciences at the Tri-Cities campus, uses the shells in his class on evolution.
“The seashell organisms are a real natural,” says Vaughan. “Mollusks morphed into just about any shape imaginable. They’re a neat way to talk about the progression of life.”
Vaughan put the collection online in 2000, primarily to make it accessible to teachers and students who aren’t able to get to the coast themselves. With hundreds of photos and a self-guided tour of mollusk families, it’s a terrific resource for budding biologists, artists, or anyone with a yen for the shore.
Click here to check out the collection’s website, or visit in person at the Consolidated Information Center, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Richland. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday. The center is closed Sunday.