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Shell Club presents 74th annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show

By Staff | Feb 23, 2011

Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club members Sandy Moran, Anne Joffe and Clair Beckman get ready for the 74th Annual Shell Fair & Show, coming to the Sanibel Community House March 3-5.

The Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club’s 74th annual Shell Fair and Show is just around the corner and, just like every year, attendants better brace themselves for what will surely be one of the island’s most memorable shell shows yet.

Outside the Community House, where this classic island tradition takes place, the Sanibel Community Association will host an outdoor retail fair to raise money for the the House, but inside is where the real shell magic starts happening.

The Shell Club will have specimen collector shells, coral and various other sealife for sale, in addition t-shirts, gifts and shell-themed merchandise. A special table will feature several authors selling and and signing books on various topics. Selections from Charles Sobczak, Christine Lemmon, Harlan Wittkopf, Harry Lee and Gary Schmelz, who is also a scientific judge for this year’s event, will be available for purchase.

All the money raised inside the Community House will go to the Sanibel Captiva Shell Club — but where does all that money go?

“We give it all away,” said Shell Club President Anne Joffe. “Recently, we funded the new record shells exhibit at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, but we’re the only shell club in the world that, for 25 years, has fully funded a student every year at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If they’re studying anything to do with the sea, we send them through their their four years of undergraduate work, their masters work and all the way through their doctorate.”

Sandy Moran’s enormous sailor’s valentine, which will be on display at the Shell Fair and Show, features a painting of a wharf in Boston in the 1840s, and is surrounded by mussels from Cape Cod, where Moran lives part-time, and baby whelks from Sanibel.

But for those who don’t have a scholarly aptitude for shells and sealife, Joffe said the Shell Fair and Show is an excellent way for nautical novices to begin exploring the vast and varied world of shells.

“We’re always trying to educate people about shells, and the people that come to the show for the first time absolutely love it. It’s quite an experience. But we also have people that return every year, and some come from as far away as Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, and even Canada just for the shell show,” Joffe said. “There’s a wonderful camaraderie shared among the people that come year after year. It’s so much fun — kind of like coming back to summer camp and seeing all your friends.”

Fellow “shell camper” Sandy Moran — known for her ornately designed sailor’s valentines and decorative antique tea caddies — has been Chairman of the Shell Fair & Show Artistic Committee for 13 years, but she’s been an exhibitor for longer, having caught the shell bug when she moved to the islands 28 years ago.

“Part of the challenge of making something artistic with shells is that you have to be very patient — you need thousands of the same kind of shells and they all have to be sorted, and it’s a challenge making the shell’s shape fit the shape of your design,” Moran said. “Seeing the people that come to the show and how amazed they are that all these different items can be made from shells. The look on their faces is the satisfaction you get from all the hours you spent creating the piece.”

But the annual Shell Fair and Show isn’t just about appreciating the beauty of shells.

“We’ve got some really good scientific exhibits this year — some are forty feet long! We’ll even have one of the largest bivalves in the world, a Tridacna gigas, that weighs over 500 pounds on display. That’s what this portion of the show is all about — presenting common, but good quality shells and also really rare shells, all in an interesting way,” said Scientific Committee Chairman Joyce Matthys. “We have 27 different scientific categories and some of these are single shell categories and some are multiple. We also have student categories. We have categories for Sanibel shells and shells from all over the world, and even a category for unusual variants — I call them freak shells.” Matthys laughed, but she noted how serious the judging process is for assessing entries in both the scientific and artistic categories.

“Judging the scientific category depends on a number of things — each of the shells has to be labeled accurately, we look at the aesthetics and the condition of the shell and we also consider the attractiveness of the exhibit itself. If there is an educational value to the exhibit, we also factor that in,” Matthys said. “It’s very analytical in regards to how and where the shells were collected, is the spelled correctly and formatted properly. It’s get very technical.”

This year, Matthys, who created the introductory video shown to thousands at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum every year — is also presenting an exhibit comparing shelling in Sanibel to shelling in Oregon, where she spends part of the year.

And Matthys said that this year’s Shell Fair and Show is going to be the biggest scientific show in the last five years, especially because of the introduction of a new category — the “Sanibel Superstar.”

“We’ve already got three or four entries in the category, and they’re the best of the best. This trophy is designated to be the best in the shell show circuit — it’s a top of the line trophy, available only on Sanibel and only awarded for pure excellence” Joffe said.

To enter the Sanibel Superstar category, participants’ exhibits must have won more than just a few blue ribbons.

“These entrants have won blue ribbons, then they went on to win a Dupont trophy, a Conchologists of America trophy, and they’ve worked their way up as a result of entering and winning probably five or six shell shows,” Joffe said. “Any trophy that says Sanibel is worth a lot to a shell collector — we are the best, we have the highest prestige and Sanibel is the shell capital.”

The 74th annual Shell Fair and Show will run Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 3-5, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday — at the Sanibel Community House, 2713 Periwinkle Way.

A $3 donation is suggested for entry, with children admitted for free, and for each $3 donation, the Shell Club will award a small memento bag of shells.

“It’s just a little thank you for helping the Shell Club,” Joffe said.

For more information, call 472-2155 or go to www.sanibelcommunityhouse.net.