The Sanibel Shell Festival's reach is so vast, Martha Stewart now has a woman in charge of shell crafting.
The 77th annual Sanibel Shell Festival is set to return March 6-8 at the Community House.
Every year thousands of shell enthusiasts descend upon Sanibel, known as one of the best shelling destinations throughout the world, for the annual show featuring shells, shell art, crafts and books, and the historic juried artistic and scientific exhibits.
"The artistic exhibit will blow your socks off," said Joyce Matthys, President of the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club. "It's becoming a really big hobby now."
The Shell Club and Sanibel Community Association work together to host the festival, typically held the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of March annually.
Every Monday, the Sanibel Shell Crafters meet all year long to assemble beautiful creations made from shells to sell at the festival. Proceeds go to the maintenance of the Community House, according to Tyler Schoenherr, Shell co-chair for the SCA.
"We're really looking forward to it," he said. "We have one of the biggest shows in the country, it's in a class of its own. People [from other shows] come to see what Sanibel is doing."
While admission to the grounds is free, it costs a mere $5 to gain entrance to the Shell Show inside the House. These proceeds benefit the Shell Club's local scholarship programs and provide the true spectacle of the festival. Juried Artistic and Scientific shows will be displayed throughout the House, where shelling enthusiasts vie for the coveted awards given each year to the most amazing finds and creations.
Collections can vary from a single shell to a person who had a 47-foot-long exhibit, according to Matthys. They bring in thousands of people each year willing to donate money to their worthy cause.
"We were able to donate $23,000 in grants to the scholarships last year," she said. "We have scholarships with FGCU, an endowment where we do a full $10,000 scholarship for the marine science department at the University of South Florida. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation receive money."
This year's edition will feature a host of new activities with a focus on getting the youth excited for shelling, according to Schoenherr.
"There's going to be a 'Meet the Artist' table with several children demonstrating how to craft these creations. A lady is coming from California who is a valentine artist. The Shell Tank will have the 6th graders come down from Sanibel School."
There are already over 225 entries in the artistic division of the Shell Show and over 400 linear feet of scientific exhibits. These are collections of shells that come from Sanibel's beaches and around the world.
Several sponsors and acclaimed Sanibel artists have donated raffle items to raise money for the Community House as well. For $5 each or 3 for $10, patrons will have a chance to win a piece of island-inspired jewelry from Congress Jewelers, a one-week vacation to 'Tween Waters Inn, and amazing locally created shell art from award-winning artist Judy Dinnick, Bill Jordan, JoAnne Bedient, and others.
A number of locally acclaimed authors, including Marianne Berkes, Katie Gardenia, Charles Sobczak, Jane Tuccillo, Dr. Gary Schmelz, and Harlan Wittkopf, will be on hand throughout the weekend signing books and joining in on the fun.
For more information about the Sanibel Shell Festival, visit sanibelcommunityhouse.net or sanibelcaptivashellclub.com. To check out the video from Martha Stewart's show displaying creations from the 75th annual Shell Fair, visit www.marthastewart.com/898281/shell-paperweight-craft.