For nearly 50 years, the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science has presented the du Pont Trophy Award to the “overall outstanding exhibit” entered at shell shows around the country. The award honors exceptional citizen scientists having a passion for shells, shell collecting, and the natural history of mollusks.

For the majority of its history, the du Pont Trophy was a simple engraved plaque. As part of the Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012, Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D. re-imagined the award to celebrate the variety in the Museum’s vast collection of more than two million mollusks. She turned to long-time Museum supporter and local artist, Lauren Sweeney, Ph.D. in making this vision a reality. The result is an original watercolor highlighting a different shell from the collection each year. A framed limited-edition, signed print of this commission is presented to the du Pont Trophy winners.

The specimens found in natural history collections straddle the edge between art and science. Collectors may be inspired to pick up a shell and put it in their pocket because it strikes them as beautiful. But with the addition of some simple data such as date and location, the shells become a record of biodiversity and an essential scientific resource. The du Pont Trophy paintings often include images of this data.

Lauren Sweeney’s paintings are informed by a lifetime of scientific observation. Originally a biologist who focused her talents on research, teaching, and scientific illustrations, Lauren is now a full-time artist. Her attention to detail brings the shape, color, texture, and pattern of her subjects into sharp focus. Lauren has exhibited her work in the greater Philadelphia area, including the Sketch Club, Gallery Twenty Two, and the Main Line Art Center.

2022 duPont Trophy

Melongena corona

This painting depicts the marine snail Melongena corona as positioned on Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.’s kitchen table. The specimen (and setting) was chosen in recognition of the chaotic year ushered in by COVID. It was originally designed as the 2021 edition, but as most shell shows were canceled, it was moved to 2022.

2019 du Pont Trophy

Tellina radiata

This specimen of Tellina radiata, a bivalve mollusk commonly known as the Sunrise Tellin, is from the Alison Bradford collection, bequeathed to the museum by Alison Bradford, a longtime volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees. Bradford had been at the museum for over 30 years. She passed away in the summer of 2018 and transferred her collection of more than 1,000 shells to the museum, most collected in Gasparilla Island, Florida, where she owned a home. 

2018 du Pont Trophy

Haliotis fulgens Philippi

The pearlescent marine sea snail abalone is the inspiration for the 2018 du Pont Trophy, featuring two specimens of the green abalone Haliotis fulgens Philippi, 1845 (DMNH 10958). These specimens have a beautiful nacreous layer and were selected by the museum’s first Mollusk Curator, R. Tucker Abbott, for illustration in the second edition of American Seashells. Published in 1974, the book is an essential resource for shell lovers and an important part of the museum’s history.

2017 du Pont Trophy

Liguus crenatus variation

The 2017 du Pont trophy was based on shells owned by renowned Delaware illustrator Frank Schoonover, a gift from one of his most well-known clients, Irénée du Pont, owner of Granogue in Delaware and the fabled Xanadu mansion in Cuba, where the shells were collected. The shells were donated to the museum in December 2015 by Schoonover’s grandson John Schoonover.

2016 du Pont Trophy

Anodonta imbecilis from Florida

This year’s shell is a group of freshwater bivalves, commonly known as Paper Pondshells, collected in Lake Talquin, Florida in 1954. Freshwater bivalves are the focus of a recent National Science Foundation grant that will help the museum share its collections on the web.

2015 du Pont Trophy

Leporicypraea mappa variation

The museum’s mollusk collection contains over 250,000 boxes (or “lots”) of shells, making it one of the largest collections in North America. The Map Cowries in this painting highlight the depth of the museum’s holdings and the variation found within a single species.

2014 du Pont Trophy

Spondylus with data label

New collections come into the museum from many sources, often accompanied by old data labels. This specimen of Thorny Oyster is a beautiful and ornate U.S. species, complete with an interesting original data card.

2013 du Pont Trophy

Scaphella junonia on sand

Finding a Junonia on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast is cause for celebration. This composition highlights the popular marine snail resting on a background of sand collected from Boca Grande, Florida by long-time museum trustee and volunteer Alison Bradford.

2012 du Pont Trophy

Festilyria duponti holotype

The subject of the first watercolor is Festilyria duponti, a shell named by Clifton Stokes Weaver in honor of Delaware Museum of Natural History founder, John E. du Pont. The background is a representation of a technical book on shells, co-authored by du Pont and Weaver.