The love of shelling typically attracts up to 6,000 attendees over the course of three days every year who attend the Sanibel Shell Festival, and this year’s event held last weekend — for the 79th consecutive year — was no exception.
As our friends at “The Islander” explain:
“It actually started at the Island Inn as the first show. That was back in the day when people would come for extended stays and of course shelling was a big part of their adventure. A lot of people who were staying there at the time all knew each other and decided wouldn’t it be fun to have a little show to show people what we found,” Mary Burton, the festival’s artistic chair commented. “It was very informal and held on the porch of the Island Inn.
At some point along the way the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club became involved and began promoting the event, which resulted in moving it to a larger venue, eventually to the Sanibel Community House. As a result the Sanibel Shell Festival has become one of the most prestigious and largest shows in the world.
“I enjoy every aspect of it,” Burton said of the festival. “It takes an army of volunteers to get this thing off the ground. Once this show ends within a month we are already working on the next show. To me the greatest joy is to seeing the looks on people’s faces and listening to their comments.”
The event is always held the first weekend of March with the week leading up to Saturday completely dedicated to the Sanibel Shell Festival.
The festival is sponsored by the Sanibel Community Association and Shell Crafters, the latter a group that meets every Monday throughout the year to make arrangements, shell critters and jewelry.
The Shell Crafters sell their items under a huge tent during the three-day event, with all funding after overhead given to the Sanibel Community Association to help maintain the facility. Also outside, a large food booth features ice cream cones, sundaes and hamburgers.
As in the past, the inside of the Community House plays home to both the scientific division and the artistic division of the juried, judged shell show, sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club, whose mission is the promotion and education of mollusks from around the world.
“You stand there and look at these shells and you can’t wrap your head around the fact that this was created. This was a living creature at one time,” Burton said.
The artistic division promotes the diversity of the art that you can create from shells and sea life. “I have been doing this now for probably 10 years and it never seizes to amaze me of what these people do with these shells,” Burton said.
The Sailors Valentine is among the popular creations for the artistic division.
“Our professional artists and our hobbyists, their Valentines are absolutely breathtaking. When you are looking at one of those, just remember everything you are seeing is created from a shell and sea life and it takes a lot of imagination and perspective on the part of that artist to formulate the idea and put it all together,” she said. “It is not uncommon for an artist to have two to 300 hours in a valentine. Once people understand this is made from shells and sea life it really gives them a different perspective.”
Burton said the exhibitors who enter the show all have one thing in common from the beginning – a love for shells.
“We all come through that door and we are already linked because of our common interest in the shell world. To continue the legacy of the shells, the people that come to the show are just blown away by it – that to me is the greatest reward,” she said. “We strive to educate, to entertain, to get people involved and to continually promote the art of shell art and the science of shells.”
For more information, visit www.sanibelcaptivashellclub.com.
And don’t forget to make plans to attend next year’s festival — the 80th Anniversary of the Sanibel Shell Festival is scheduled for March 2 – 4, 2017!