For millions of years, crabs have been scuttling about the bottom of the world's oceans and bays, but few regions have embraced the mean-spirited, omnivorous crustacean with as much vigor as we have here in Maryland.
When I moved here from the Midwest and soon after attended my first crab feast, I remember thinking, "What is wrong with these people?" Sitting in the hot sun for hours at a clip, smashing steamed crustaceans with a mallet and then sorting through razor-sharp bits of shell and crab entrails for a thimbleful of meat seemed more like some sort of torture than a good time.
Of course, I quickly learned the benefits of picking crabs when I had my first big bite of backfin meat. This delicacy, caked with Old Bay, has inspired an entire culture of entertaining. What would Maryland summers be without crabs?
As is true with other subcultures — groups of people that identify with, say, such enterprises as NASCAR, the NFL or Jimmy Buffett — the lowly crab has inspired a bevy of porch flags, key chains and stickers, as well as home accessories and decor. Thankfully, these consumer items are (at least sometimes) a bit subtler than Margaritaville wall decor or a Dale Jr. grill cover.
The global dispersion of our hard-shelled friend also means that it's not just here in Maryland that people have proudly decorated with crab-inspired home accents and furnishings.The crab has been an important icon to many civilizations, including the ancient Greeks, the people of pre-Columbian Central America, the Japanese, medieval Europeans and the Incas.
As with any home decor, crab-inspired pieces range in style from classy to kitsch. I have seen pewter crab chip-and-dip servers, crab pillows, crab doormats … the list goes on and on.
But I do have some favorites. Below are a few of them, as well as an assortment of some of the more unusual products available.
Art and accessories
Richmond, Va.-based online retailer Posh Living and interior designer Karen Robertson's collection of art and accessories both offer prints in a classical style.
The Karen Robertson Collection includes four different monotone-blue reproduction illustrations depicting a variety of crab species. One of these or the entire set will bring an air of tradition and sophistication to any decor.
Posh Living offers a variety of crab prints and canvases ranging from full-color illustrations and watercolor prints to screen-print style pieces inspired by commercial signage.
Local artist Nancy Hammond offers a fresh, casual approach to crab art with a variety of paintings available as signed and numbered limited edition giclee prints through Nancy Hammond Editions.
Looking for three-dimensional tabletop art? Design Toscano's bronze crab sculptures are beautifully cast and available in three sizes. Vagabond House makes a great hurricane-style candleholder supported by three polished pewter crabs.
Fun and functional
From televisions and soap dishes to glassware and trays, the crab motif makes functional pieces fun and decorative as well.
The most unusual crab product I've seen is a 19-inch LCD television from Hannspree, a maker of LCD products designed for clients looking for new ways to express their individuality. Framed with a stylized red crab body, the television would be a fun addition to a kids room or quirky coastal sunporch.
Bringing a more classical look to functional pieces, High Point, N.C. home furnishings manufacturer Maitland-Smith and tabletop accessories rivals Mariposa and Wilton Armetale offer a variety of crab-themed serving pieces and trays.
For subtlety, Mariposa and Maitland-Smith take home the prize. Mariposa's highball glass is etched with a simple crab or lobster motif and Maitland Smith's marquetry tray is raised by two brass crab-motif feet.
For items designed in the shape of the crab, Mariposa's sand-cast aluminum crab sauce dish is perfect for dips and condiments, while Wilton Armetale's crab serving dish features claws that can be filled with dip or garnish. Maitland-Smith's bronze crab soap dish adds instant personality to a powder room.
Furnishings and accessories
Seabrook Classics, as the name would suggest, specializes in nautically inspired home furnishings and decor. The company's crab daybed features large and small crab cutouts and is available in a wide variety of paints, stains and hand-rubbed finishes. Adding the trundle bed option makes a nice solution for a TV room that needs to double as a bedroom when guests are in town.
For a subtle decorative nod to the crab, throw pillows are an easy way to accessorize and add personality. Crab-embroidered pillows from the Annapolis Pillow Co. are part of a larger collection of customized pillows available for sale at Star Monograms in downtown Annapolis. For a more formal look, Sferra, a company known for luxury bedding, also has a line of decorative accessories, which includes a linen crab pillow ornamented with detailed embroidery.
Hardware and accents
Elements like hardware, knobs, trim and fixtures have long been a way of adding subtle decorative touches to the home interior with styles that range from purely architectural to those inspired by nature.
Carolina Hardware's decorative ceramic knobs with blue and red painted crab illustrations can be used to freshen up ho-hum kitchen and bathroom cabinetry or even give an old chest of drawers a fun new look.
Commonly used as an element in kitchen backsplashes, fireplace surrounds or on their own as accent pieces, decorative tiles are an easy way to express your personality and style.
One of my favorite tile works is run by the Bucks County, Pa., Department of Parks and Recreation. A National Historic Landmark, Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is still producing tiles in a manner similar to that developed by the pottery's founder and builder, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930). The tile works produces a variety of handmade reissues of tiles and mosaics made in the American Arts & Crafts tradition, including a four-square tile with a bas-relief crab motif.
Closer to home, Annapolis' Wells Cove is a supplier for solid brass door knockers — their best-selling design depicts the Chesapeake Bay blue crab.
Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.