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Shell Crafters get creative at Community House every Monday

By Staff | May 31, 2017

Merlyn Longhurst began working on cars, completely made out of shells, last Monday. When his creation is finished it will include a driver, steering wheel, headlights, taillights and an exhaust. MEGHAN MCCOY

The Shell Crafters are busy year round creating one-of-a-kind intricate pieces of art ranging from jewelry to floral arrangements, which are available to purchase every Monday while they are at the Community House.

What originally began as Driftwood in the 1950s, a group, which began by Millie Bacchus and Dorothy Putnam, changed names to the Sanibel Shell Crafters in 1990. The Shell Crafters have been a part of the Shell Fair and Shell Show since its inception, meeting once a week to make items to sell at the annual Shell Fair, or enter into the Shell Show.

During season the Shell Crafters offer classes from 10 a.m. to noon for those interested in the hobby. An individual can take up to two classes before becoming an apprentice. The summer months, on the other hand, slow down providing those involved with the Shell Crafters the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind pieces with shells.

In addition to creating masterpieces to sell, the Shell Crafters are in the beginning stages of creating pieces to add to their golf cart for the 4th of July parade this year. Barb Walling, who spearheads the float, said this year the Shell Crafters are creating one of elegance.

“This is the fourth year we are participating in the parade,” she said, adding that they wanted to get involved because they felt the Community House should be represented in the annual celebration.

Johnnie Lorren adds beads one, by one for her newest creation of jewelry. MEGHAN MCCOY

The Shell Crafters float has won numerous awards since becoming involved.

For Anita Gober her favorite day of the week is Monday when she meets her friends at the Community House for her weekly social hour with others that share a common interest.

Fifteen years ago Gober tried her hand at beading and instantly fell in love.

“I went to one class and loved it,” she said. “Beads are beautiful and so much fun.”

Five years ago when she moved to Sanibel, she was introduced to the Shell Crafters and has been a member ever since.

Anita Gober spends time making an anklet bracelet from coquina shells. MEGHAN MCCOY

“Beading, shells and jewelry is my passion, and teaching,” Gober said of why the Shell Crafters is a perfect match.

Her inspiration to create a piece of jewelry sometimes stems from finding a shell, which then turns into creating a design to fit that specific shell. On the flip side, the idea for a piece of jewelry often times ignites leading to finding the shell that would fit the idea perfectly.

The next step is choosing the color of beads. Gober said she believes the technique comes third in the process.

“I have to figure out how to make it wearable,” she said.

In addition to creating jewelry, Gober spends time teaching classes at the Community House, mostly during seasonal months. She said most of the time participants leave with a completed piece of jewelry.

Lyne Carlson puts the finishing touches on a witch crafted from shells. MEGHAN MCCOY

Johnnie Lorren, who shared a table with Gober last week, just began diving into the craft of making shell jewelry.

Lorren began visiting the island in the ’70s before moving to Sanibel four years ago. After her niece pulled her into a class with the Shell Crafters she began sorting shells for a couple of years before really diving into creating shell art.

The creativity and one-of-a-kind shells is what keeps Lorren inspired.

“You pick up something for nothing on the beach. It’s nature and it’s beautiful,” she said of finding the shells she will use for her jewelry and flower arrangements.

Lorren said she also enjoys going through the donation of shells because she tries to figure out how an individual discovered that particular shell.

A witch created from shells by Lyne Carlson. MEGHAN MCCOY

Merlyn Longhurst joined the Shell Crafters with his wife about 10 or 15 years ago because they lived on Sanibel for many years, kind of falling into the group. Although he typically creates critters out of shells, he was working on multiple cars, which would have a driver, steering wheel, headlights and taillights and an exhaust by the time it was completed.

Longhurst enjoys creating art from shells because every one is a little bit different and unique. He said it’s interesting how each of his creations turns out.

Walling got involved with Shell Crafters eight, or nine years ago after she explored the hobby on her own for many years.

“I was doing it myself without knowing how to do it,” she admitted.

Years later, Walling has submitted many of her pieces to the Shell Show wining numerous ribbons.

Walling said although on occasion she has done flower arrangements on such items as driftwood, she mostly creates flowers for others to use in their floral arrangements.

“You have to be original and figure out how to make stuff. I think it has to be outside of the box,” she said.

The new renovated space of the Community House has been a true enhancement to the Shell Crafters productivity. With new storage space, the women and men can display their pieces of art, which can be viewed and purchased every Monday they come together.

“It’s wonderful and very nice,” Lorren said of the newly renovated Community House. “We can have a lot more people this way.”

She thanked the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ for giving them space during the renovation.

“We were happy to move back here, but thankful for that,” Lorren said.