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Shell Festival celebrates islands’ heritage, considered the world’s best show

By Staff | Mar 4, 2015

It’s billed as one of the world’s longest running and largest shell shows.

The 78th annual Sanibel Shell Festival runs March 5-7. The event at the Sanibel Community House will attract thousands of hobbyists and professionals, many traveling to Sanibel just to make the festival. Half of the festival is a juried show with the world’s finest in artistic and scientific exhibits, the other half is a crafter show with an amazing variety of shell art. Other activities and entertainment are scheduled.

Proceeds will benefit a number of causes, including scholarships. Fees and tickets last year generated $22,000. There were more than 200 exhibitors, including David Rhyne, whose sailor valentine artwork is regarded as top tier. He regularly takes best in show in artistic work in Sanibel.

The Shell Festival’s roots in Sanibel date to the island’s early modernization, when an islander staged a shell show on the porch of her beachfront hotel.

The Sanibel Shell Festival is co-hosted by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club and the Sanibel Community Association, whose weekly shell-crafter workshops produce a big chunk of the shell art offered at the show, said Mary Burton, chair of the Festival’s shell show committee.

“The event and everyone involved has one thing in common,” Burton said, “and that’s our love of seashells.”

Each fall the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club gives away all the profits from the spring’s Shell Show. Besides grants, the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club has supported graduate students in the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science for many years.

The Club’s first contribution in 1982 made it possible for Dr. Bruce Barber to purchase equipment that was critical to his dissertation. In 1985, the Club voted to establish an endowed fellowship that would support research by University of South Florida Marine Science graduate students. What began with a modest contribution in 1985 ($500) has grown to become a significant endowment and one that supports cutting-edge research by some of USF’s brightest marine science students.

Similarly, in 1992, Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club members Mary and Al Bridell established a Fellowship in Marine Science at USF to help graduate students in the Department of Marine Science who need financial support to explore new ideas/concepts about biological, chemical, geological or physical aspects of ocean/atmospheric systems. The Bridells in 2009 decided to consolidate their funds to maximize on the support available to the Fellowship recipient. It became “The Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club/Mary & Al Bridell Memorial Fellowship in Marine Science.” The endowment is now self-sustaining and a fellowship in the amount of $10,000 has been awarded to a graduate student the past few years. This year the recipient was Elizabeth Fahsbender, a third year doctoral student studying viral infections in marine animals.

Grant recipients funded by the 2014 Sanibel Shell Show included the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory, Adopt-A-Class (Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum), Florida Gulf Coast University Department of Marine and Ecological Science, Conchologists of America Scholarship Program, Florida Museum of Natural History for SEM imaging of micromollusks.

Shell Festival details

The Shell Festival is March 5, 6, and 7 at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way. Hours for the Festival Grounds are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. except Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Exhibit Halls 9 a.m.-4 p.m. There is a $5 exhibit entry fee. Crafts will be sold.