Oysters, Pearls of Long Island Sound at the Bruce Museum

Found in estuaries around the world, oysters play a significant role in ecosystems and economies. These bivalve mollusks have sustained Native Americans and created waterside cultures. The Long Island Sound’s native oyster, the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), is a keystone species in the local environment, providing critical habitat and food for many other species, recycling nutrients, cleaning the water as it feeds, and driving an industry. Its value lies in these worthy attributes rather than in its potential for jewels. Like other true oysters, the Eastern oyster rarely produces a pearl. If it does make one, the pearl lacks the lustrous quality of those produced by pearl oysters, which are in a different family.

Eastern Oyster Eastern Oyster Crassostrea virginica Bruce Museum Collection Photo by Paul Mutino

Eastern Oyster
Eastern Oyster
Crassostrea virginica
Bruce Museum Collection Photo by Paul Mutino

The Bruce Museum celebrates the Eastern oyster in the exhibition Oysters, Pearls of Long Island Sound, running through March 23, 2014.

The exhibition will explore the science and history of the Eastern oyster in Long Island Sound, examining how its nutritional and commercial values have made the Eastern oyster a popular commodity for residents along the Sound for eons.

Hassam_Sloop Childe Hassam (American, 1859 – 1935) Oyster Sloop, Cos Cob, 1902 Oil on canvas National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.100

Hassam_Sloop
Childe Hassam (American, 1859 – 1935) Oyster Sloop, Cos Cob, 1902
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.100

Native Americans harvested oysters from mile-long natural beds and collected individual oysters that were up to a foot long. By the early 1800s, the natural beds had become depleted and oysters were cultivated on artificial beds.

The oyster industry was a powerful force in the local economy by the end of the 19th century. However, overfishing, pollution, natural disasters, and disease brought about a decline and the industry was seriously threatened through the early to mid-20th century.

In recent years, the oyster trade has experienced resurgence as a result of improved aquaculture techniques and oysters’ popularity among food connoisseurs who enjoy their distinctive flavor, which varies with each local environment.

Organized with the assistance of scientists and historians and developed in cooperation with the Town of Greenwich Shellfish Commission, Oysters, Pearls of Long Island Sound features hands-on, interactive displays, videos, specimens of bivalves from around the world, and historical objects that appeal to all ages. Objects from the Bruce Museum collection are supplemented by loans of shells, oystering tools, food-related items, and boat models from local collectors including oysterman Norm Bloom and institutions such as the Yale Peabody Museum, Rowayton Historical Society, National Gallery of Art, Grand Central Oyster Bar, and Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Milford Laboratory.

Complementing the exhibition will be a science lecture series in the fall and a history lecture series in the winter in addition to a variety of programs suitable for all ages.

About the Bruce Museum

Explore Art and Science at the Bruce Museum, located at One Museum Drive in Greenwich, Connecticut. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm; closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for students up to 22 years, $6 for seniors and free for members and children under 5 years. Individual admission is free on Tuesday. Free on-site parking is available and the Museum is accessible to individuals with disabilities. For additional information, call the Bruce Museum at (203) 869-0376 or visit the website at www.brucemuseum.org. For area information www.visitfairfieldcountyct.com

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