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Shell Fair and Show set to amaze and dazzle crowd

By Staff | Feb 26, 2009

Connie Miller is can barely wait to show her shell-art creations at the upcoming 72nd Annual Sanibel Shell Show and Fair.

The show is being held March, 5, 6 and 7 at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way.

This year Miller is also excited to sell her pieces in the newly-added juried art sales show. She will be exhibiting six entries including a traditional Sailor’s Valentine piece replicated from how they were first made in the 1800s, miniature hummingbird and miniature flower arrangement. For those not acquainted with shelling lingo a Sailor’s Valentine is a box soldiers used to get from the Barbados and give their sweethearts when they came home. Shell artists regularly create these special boxes.

For shell collectors, admirers and artists the annual three-day event is considered like the Holy Grail.

It’s like the Westminster Dog Show, only for shell lovers.

“There couldn’t be a more perfect place than Sanibel Island, the shelling capital of North America, to hold the largest and longest running shell show in the country,” said Kathleen Hoover, marketing director for the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. “The show upholds our reputation as THE place to go if you are serious about collecting shells.”

The show consists of two divisions of juried exhibits, scientific and artistic. Amateurs, expert shell collectors and every skill level in between, display single shells or collections of shells in various categories. This year there are 388. Much more than simply placing a shell(s) on a display table is involved. Countless hours are spent labeling and arranging shells, conducting research, developing supportive content, and creating display boards.

Prizes will be awarded in a variety of categories such as educational, sea-life other than shells and fossils.

Guests can view the ribbons and plaques awarded to the entrants by this year’s scientific Judges Emilio Garcia, PhD, and Harry Lee, M.D.

There will also be a book table, and authors Harlan Wittkopf , Marianne Berkesk, and C and B Peterson will on hand to sign their books, said Irene Longley, chairman of the Shell Fair.

The popular and widely attended show will feature displays from the scientific and artistic aspects of the shelling world, according to the San-Cap Shell Club. Works by renowned conchologists, as well as local amateur artists will be included.

Outside the Community House will be the fair where folks can purchase shell crafts benefiting the Sanibel Community Association.

Organizers are not letting the economy cast a pall on the day.

“We are hoping we have as large a crowd as we did last year,” Longley said.

A $3 fee gets you inside the building where the exhibitors are showing their scientific and artistic entries. There is free parking. There will be a Shell Fair Raffle including prizes valued at more than $ 4,500.

And for anyone who gets the munchies, there will be fair-style food such as elephant ears, for sale.

This year, a couple is showing their collection of cone shells from the Philippines, said Joyce Matthys, who runs the scientific portion of the show. There are 70 entries an increase from last year.

Matthys said the scientific portion of the show is a favorite among shell collectors.

Renowned professors and those with doctorates in conchology will be judging the event.

Matthys said she loves the scientific portion because she learns so much.

“I like to see the shells from all over the world,” she said. “It’s always exciting to see something you never have before.”

Across the way in the artistic section of the show, exhibitors are happy to display their shell creations and works.

“People come from all over the U.S. to see this,” said Sandy Moran, co-chair for the artistic section of the shell fair.

This will also be the Shell Fair’s largest artistic show.

At the art fair, viewers can see and in some cases purchase the artistic pieces made from shells. Juried artists, such as Moran, will be able to sell their artwork for the first time.

Some will have shell pieces that resemble orchids and floral arrangements.

There will be shell designed lamps and topiaries as well, Moran said. Some items will run for a modest buck while some sailor valentines will fetch about $10,000, Moran said.

Moran said it’s not hard to make shell art. A variety of good books and some ideas from the exhibitions can help a would-be shell artist.

The artists themselves look forward to the camaraderie as well as exhibiting their work. Artists vie for the coveted Tom Clifford Memorial trophy which Moran has won several times.

“Were all very good friends,” Moran said. “We have a great time.”

The sheer amazement at the variety of shells is still the biggest draw to the annual event that started when a local resident began leaving her shells on her porch for others to see nearly 75 years ago. People started adding to her collection and soon the Shell Fair emerged.

“Everyone should attend at least one Shell Fair,” Longley said. “You won’t believe that God made such beautiful things.”

For additional information, call 239-283-7417, or email ireneshells@embarqmail.com