The early origins of the Sanibel Shell Festival dates back to over 80 years ago. The wives of sport fishermen began collecting shells while their husbands went fishing. In the evening, the women would display their best finds in boxes on the porches of Casa Ybel and the Matthew Hotel, which is now the Island Inn. As time went on, this grew into a competition between the two hotels.
"At one point in time, they decided to have a Shell Day, and everybody would bring out their best shells," said Joyce Matthys, who is on the Sanibel Shell Festival Committee.
Shell Day has now turned into the annual Sanibel Shell Festival. The three day festival is scheduled to take place March 2, 3 and 4 at the Sanibel Community House located at 2173 Periwinkle Way. On Thursday and Friday, the festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday, it will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. While there isn't a fee to scope out the grounds, admission to attend the Shell Show inside The Community House is $5. With paid admission, the attendee will receive free admission to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, a $15 value. The free ticket to the museum must be used during the days that the Sanibel Shell Festival takes place.
This year’s theme for the Sanibel Shell Festival is “Around the World in 80 Shells.” T-shirts will be available at the show for $15 each.
Outside of The Community House, the Shell Crafters will be selling pieces that they have worked on all year long. All of the money raised will go towards the maintenance of the Community House. Matthys said that $70,000 in outside sales was raised last year.
Money that is raised inside during the show, after expenses are paid for, will go directly towards scholarships and conservation organizations at the University of South Florida and the Florida Gulf Coast University Department of Marine & Ecological Sciences.
Outside of The Community House, there will be sixth graders from The Sanibel School giving live tank talks.
"Part of their curriculum for this year is learning about mollusks, so they will act as docents during the tank talks," Matthys said.
In addition to the tank talks, there will be an author's table and Bill Jordan will give presentations throughout the weekend discussing the history of Sailor's Valentines.
Videos will also be shown about mollusks and a food booth will be set up outside as well.
The show attracts exhibitors from all over the globe. People as far as Japan, the Caribbean and Canada make their way to the festival to either show their rare shell collections or their hand-made crafts.
"This is the biggest, longest running shell show in the United States," Matthys said. "Everybody likes to win something from here."
Matthys, who has been involved with the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club for more than 20 years will show her woven sea silks that are found inside of pin shells.
"The thing about sea silk is that it shines like gold. They talk in the Bible about clothes that glimmer like gold and they say that it's because they were made out of the sea silk," she said.
The show is judged in two separate divisions: scientific and artistic.
Scientific judges for this year includes Dr. Jose Leal, the science director and curator of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and Robert Janowsky, who is one of the eight founding members of Conchologists of America. Janowsky is also the owner of MdM Shell Books, which is the largest supplier of shell books in the country.
Artistic judges includes Sharlene Totten, who crafts her own shell jewelry. She has also judged Florida shell shows for the last 13 years. The second judge for the division is John Whitenight who has judged the Philadelphia Flower Show for a number of years.
As always, there will be a plethora of raffle items on display. The prizes include a 13" Sailor's Valentine made by Bill Jordan, a one-week vacation for two courtesy of Sanibel-Captiva Beach Resorts, island inspired jewelry from Congress Jewelers, an etched vase/wine cooler by Luc Century, a large murex ramosus shell in a lucite display case donated by Larry Strange, Ann Arnoff, Charles Lister and Bill Schecker and a Jamis Hudson bike donated by Salli Kirkland of Billy's Bike Rentals.
Raffle tickets are $5 each, three for $10 or seven for $20. The drawing for the prizes will be held March 4 at 3 p.m. Proceeds will go towards the upkeep of The Community House. Festival T-shirts will be available for $15 as well.
For more information on the Sanibel Shell Festival, go to sites.google.com/site/thesanibelcaptivashellclub/annual-shell-show/2017-shell-show .