San Leon home celebrates the crustacean in a variety of art forms
Walk up the steps to the front door of Salli Babbitt and Carsten Peterson’s San Leon bay house, and you’ll be greeted by a googly-eyed crab atop a bright blue metal crab wreath.
It’s immediately apparent their home pays homage to the crustaceans in every art form imaginable.
Plates, napkins, coasters, trays, platters, bottle toppers, dish towels — even party cups engraved with the words “The Blue Crab Shack” — all are part of the collection that Babbitt has been accumulating since moving to San Leon eight years ago.
“Every house should have a theme,” she said. “When we moved here, we needed décor, and the crab seemed perfect, because my husband’s astrological sign is Cancer, represented by the crab. Plus, they are native to the area.”
Babbitt, an established artist and avid conservationist, is mindful of what she takes out of the bay and what she puts in it. The same goes for Peterson, who is a Master Naturalist.
“We use the bay conservatively and set out crab traps in the warmer months, usually garnering about six at a time,” she said. “We boil them, eat them and give a lot to friends.”
Babbitt also delights in receiving crab-related gifts from friends as well as giving them the same when she sees something they might like, she said.
“Those sorts of things just find me when I’m out and about,” she said. “When shopping, anything crab-related just finds me. They pop out and say, ‘Buy me.’”
Plates from Pier 1, towels from Nana’s Attic in League City, metal crabs from New Orleans, magnets and various other crabs from the Naked Mermaid in Galveston, and a few from Hawaii all are part of the collection.
Her favorites are: a blue relish tray with a tiny silver crab; a brass ashtray in the form of a crab, circa 1950; and two bottle stoppers.
“The bottle stoppers are a big hit at my parties, she said. “When someone makes themselves a drink, they see the crab atop the bottle and remark, ‘How cute.’”
From metal to glass to rope to cork to textiles to a child’s drawing pinned on the wall, everything is one-of-a-kind.
The two most unusual ones were made by an artist in New Orleans. They’re stuffed with recycled plastic bags and hand-painted by Babbitt’s assistant.
Aside from enjoying the colorful crabs, Babbitt also knows her science.
“The blue crabs have 10 legs, so that in itself is unusual,” she said. “Their scientific name, callinectes sapidus, means ‘savory beautiful swimmer.’ They are found in brackish coastal lagoons and estuaries from Nova Scotia, through the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Uruguay.”
As for cooking up a delicious meal, Babbitt and Peterson get their 5-year-old granddaughter, Ava, involved.
“Ava loves it when we cook the crabs in boiling water,” Babbitt said. “She is a master when it comes to holding them with the tongs and dropping them in. I have the pliers and pickers for cleaning, but I usually do that.”
Ava’s next favorite thing is eating the crabs with melted butter and a little sea salt. Babbitt often makes a crab casserole with just the meat, eggs and panko crumbs, baked in the oven.
Babbitt will continue to add to her crab collection, she said. Many pieces have gone by the wayside over the years, some being broken or just rusted away from being outdoors. In the meantime, she has this advice to all coastal dwellers.
“Everyone should name their house so friends and guests will have an idea of what to give you in the form of a gift,” she said.