Interview with Marcia Poirier of Wildabout Wampum

By Marcelle Paulin for the Cocagne Rural Community website

August 31 2015


Photo par Daniel St-Louis

At five years old, little Marcia wanted to be an artist. She felt it in her heart and soul. This worried her parents who feared that their daughter would live a life and insecurity and hardship often associated with being an artist. As a result Marcia develops an interest in marine biology and as fate would have it she is now an artist using clam shells as a material.

Without realizing it, Marcia has developed a production technique for her jewellery based on a traditional Native American method. She uses the shell of the clam to make beautiful jewellery that she sell to numerous boutiques in Canada and the Unites States. Wampum means “pearl in the shell.” Native Americans used these assembled pearls as a necklace or a belt in certain rituals.

Marcia Poirier and her partner Dave Francis have lived in Cocagne for 5 years. Marcia’s maternal grandparents, Rose-Marie and Edmond Gagnon, their daughter Léa, Marcia’s mother, are originally from our community, however, Marcia was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Marcia’s family came back to Canada and settled in Irishtown when she was 10 years old. How come she is in Cocagne now?

Marcia: “Dave and I started Wildabout Wampum in an old garage in Shediac. The local was not ideal and at one point, we had to look elsewhere. The former Cormier Printing building in Cocagne was available. We managed to install the workshop, a small boutique and our living quarters. It made me happy to return to Cocagne because I have so many fond memories of the times I visited my grandparents during my childhood. I loved digging for clams with them on Cocagne Island.”

Marcelle: How did start making this beautiful jewelry?

Marcia: “I had found a clam shell at the water’s edge and I noticed a heart on the inside of the shell. I am lucky to have a spouse who has always believed in me and in my talent. He bought me a small tool kit and I made a little heart with the clam shell. When I wore it around my neck, people asked me where I had bought it. Yet it was not so beautiful. It was the first. I have improved my technique a lot and I’m better equipped today but I still have this little heart.”

The originality and the quality of Marcia’s work have been recognized by people from here and away. To what does Marcia attribute the success of her work?

Marcia: “The beauty that is revealed under the surface of the shell, its vibrant colors,  a hand made work of art made with love are all reasons that make my work stand out. Over time and with the alternating hot and cold seasons the clams develop white and purple tints. In general, I use clam that are between 30 and 100 years old. People tell me they feel serene when they wear one of my creations. Because they are beautiful and original and each piece is unique, Wampum jewelry is eye-catching and sparks curiosity.

Clams can live up to 700 years (see the story of Ming, the oldest mollusc in the world at, on the Wildabout Wampum website). Some people in Cocagne bring me shell so as to encourage me with my work.”

Marcelle: You create jewellery but you also sculpt. Where does your inspiration come from to make your art?

Marcia: “From the clam itself. I’m trying to maximize the potential of the clam by studying the movement of the lines. Some nights I draw to help guide me the next day when I am sculpting the jewel. I use jeweller’s equipment now. I want people to say wow when they see my work.”

Marcelle: Would you like to use a different material other than the clam?

Marcia: “Yes and I already do. It’s interesting and inspiring for an artist to try something else. For certain pieces I add layers of fossilized stones for example and the results are amazing but the clam will always be a part of my work. ”

Marcelle: What do your days look like now?

Marcia: “It’s very physical work. I run regularly to stay in shape. In the summer, work days are very long, up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. In addition to the time needed to produce the pieces, there are workshops for tourists that I offered this summer for the 2nd time. My partner who takes care of management, sales and certain steps of the production process, has just as long days as I do.

In the winter, we have a more balanced work schedule and I can concentrate on creating more unique and elaborate pieces. I find it interesting to create different pieces. I created a sculpture in the shape of a lobster for the town of Shediac. Some of my pieces can be found on the other side of the planet. Three pendants in the shape of a cross were purchased by Japanese tourists who then had them blessed by the Pope!”

Marcelle: You mentioned workshops for tourists. How does that work?

Marcia: “It is by reservation only and it lasts an hour. You make a choice between 20 simple shapes. I work with the person to cut and polish the piece. I love to share my knowledge I have gained and jewellery making with people. Besides living the experience, they leave with a piece of jewellery they helped to create. ”

Marcelle: We mentioned it earlier, your work is sold in Canada and the United States.

Marcia: “Yes, we sell the majority of our jewellery in boutiques for tourists in Atlantic Canada and Florida. We also have stores elsewhere like in Fort McMurray, Alberta and in Savannah, Tennessee. There is a waiting list of boutiques who want to do business with us. As the work is done by hand, production is limited and we do not want to reduce the quality to increase the quantity. For five years now I have an apprentice, Kim Reeder, who can make the more simple pieces. This summer, we had a student who managed the boutique.”

Wildabout Wampum, is the result of a collaboration between two people. Marcia has always been able to count on her husband’s contribution as he takes cares of the administrative side of things which allows Marcia to concentrate on her art. Dave and Marcia have every reason to be proud of what they have accomplished. Marcia has received many prizes for her creations. Several interviews were presented on the radio and television. Several articles were published in reputable magazines such as the “Lapidary Journal Magazine” in the U.S. and the “Amazing Canadian Fashion Magazine” in Toronto. Recently, in a London journal, Wildabout Wampum appeared in a promotional ad for the New Brunswick tourism bureau, among the 7 reasons to visit the province.

Marcelle: How do you see the future of Wildabout Wampum?

Marcia: “We will continue of course, but later on I would like to teach the trade to someone so I can share my love and my passion so as to make sure that it continues. I would like to work with other artists. For the moment, it is inspiration that gets me out of bed in the morning and I am very happy.”

Thank you Marcia for this inspiring and passionate meeting. Congratulations to you both!

You can see a bit of Marcia’s work on the website or visit her boutique located at 4879, Route 134 à Cocagne.

Photo by Daniel St-Louis