This Is Carolina: ‘Shell Lady’ gains popularity while inspiring others through shell garden

'Shell lady' Karen Knopff paints shells and writes inspiring messages on them for others.  She...
'Shell lady' Karen Knopff paints shells and writes inspiring messages on them for others. She started her hobby as a way to relief stress amidst the coronavirus pandemic.(Meredith Helline)
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - When you’re walking the Crescent Beach area of South Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach, you may be lucky enough to pass Karen Knopff’s house.

It’s one that’s hard to miss, especially if she waves you over. She’ll want you to take a look at her shell garden and, if you want, take a shell home that makes you happy. It’s been her hobby since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“When the pandemic started, and we had to be locked in for a while, I walk the beach a lot more. I started collecting the shells and I didn’t know what to do with them. So I just sat them up on my porch. In the meantime, I’m walking and I find this shell, ‘Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.' A very simple shell with a marker scripture on there,” Knopff said of her inspiration to start painting her own shells for others.

She said she kept the original shell with scripture inside it on her nightstand. It gave her hope and inspiration. Then, she got to work on her own little project.

“It just hit me, I can do this. But I’m not creative, I’m not an artist, I just was inspired,' Knopff said.

Knopff got to work. She said her artist friend informed her of which paints and markers to use on the shells. He even made her own apron for her. Now, her artist’s table of paints and shells is hard to miss on her porch. It’s helped her find happiness and peace in unsure times.

“My mind really started running with negative thoughts. So at that time is when it really picked up because it gave me comfort to do this and it relaxed me. My favorite saying is really ‘faith over fear’ because so many times, as humans, it’s our nature to fix everything and we need to be still and we need to have faith that God will get us through this. It may take a while, but He’ll get us through this. And so I no longer have anxiety, and I hope others have found comfort in just looking at the shell they’ve gotten here too,” she said with a smile.

Knopff began painting shells around March. She said she paints around 70 a day. The day WMBF News visited her, she was painting more than 80.

“It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s a good journey that just fell into my lap and I really felt glad to do it. I really did. Because I can only draw stick figures and barely, so this, I never even owned a paintbrush, so this is not like ‘I’m an artist,' but you never know what God has in store for you,” Knopff said.

Knopff has named her shell garden project ‘Jesus shells.' She said the name comes from two little boys who stayed in her AirBnB on the second floor of her home, asking for a ‘Jesus shell.' She’s been painting them since and said she’ll always remember those two boys whose names are now in a special garden of people who have helped the shell garden grow with shell donations.

Knopff accepts no money, only shells from the beach. If you’re someone who wants to donate shells, there’s a special ‘shell angel’ flower pot for you to drop them off.

“There’s so many generous people out there who take the time to come over here, people I don’t even know, who take the time to drop off shells. So they’re part of the ministry as well. So they have a special pot and they’re called ‘shell angels’ and I made a thank you shell there for them, so they can see it when they come,” Knopff said.

If you drop off shells, Knopff will make you your own shell with your name and place it in a separate ‘shell angel’ garden to stay.

The colorful shells with inspirational sayings and Psalms have given people comfort who stumble on the garden. Knopff keeps a stone behind each shell to know how many people took home overnight. If you pass her home, it’s likely you’ll catch her on the porch, painting.

Knopff lives in North Myrtle Beach. Her family has lived in the Grand Strand for 30 years.

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