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Annual Sanibel Shell Festival to showcase all things shells

By Staff | Mar 5, 2019


With the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva well-known for their seashells – and the collection of them – it is no surprise that the community hosts the country’s oldest-running event spotlighting them.

Organized by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club and Sanibel Community Association, the 82nd Annual Sanibel Shell Festival will be held March 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 9 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Community House on Sanibel. It will feature a juried show, exhibits, shells for sale and more.

Event co-chair Joyce Matthys explained that there is a level of prestige to the competition.

“When you win a trophy or an award at our show, it’s kind of like the best of the best,” she said, attributing the respect for the festival to its history and noting that it receives worldwide attention.

Matthys added that the event also helps to educate the public about mollusks.


“You can learn about these animals that create these gorgeous shells, and what can be made artistically with them,” she said.

The inside of The Community House will hold the competition portion of the event, along with an author’s table, shell identification assistance – for any unknown finds – and games for all ages. There will be shell jewelry and shell-themed artwork to purchase, along with educational videos playing.

Matthys, whose festival co-chairs are Sue Schoenherr and Mary Burton, added that a new feature this year will be photo opportunities. Visitors will have a chance to have their picture taken with a large frame lined with seashells or a shell bikini on a mannequin. They will be available inside and outside.

The competition is broken down into two divisions: scientific and artistic.

She reported that this year there are 28 classes in the scientific division with the top placers each receiving a ribbon, plus an additional 17 special awards that are distributed. For the artistic division, there are 46 classes with a ribbon handed out to the top winners, plus an extra 26 special awards.


In the scientific division, shells from around the world will be on display in over 450 linear feet of exhibits. As for the artistic division, more than 200 works of art have been entered in the show.

The author’s table will feature about a dozen writers, along with book signings.

“They’ll be different in the morning and in the afternoon, then different ones every day,” Matthys said.

On March 7, Anne Joffe and Harlan Wittkopf are scheduled for the morning, followed by Hatsue Iimuro and Karen Bartlett in the afternoon. Ron Base, plus Pete Krull and Adrian Gonzalez Guillen, are planned for the morning of March 8, then in the afternoon John Mills and Bev Dolezal are set up.

March 9 will spotlight Jennifer Lonoff Schiff plus Blair and Dawn Witherington, then Alice Cypress.


In addition, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Science Director and Curator Dr. Jos Leal will be on hand on the mornings of March 7 and 8 to help visitors identify shells and answer questions.

“If people have a shell and they don’t really know what it is, they’re welcome to bring it,” she said.

There will be professional artists selling their creations, not to mention the jewelry.

“We have one table of gently-worn jewelry that’s phenomenal,” Matthys said, noting that the jewelry table alone raised $4,000 last year for the cause. “And they’ve got bigger and better this year.”

Proceeds raised inside and from the event T-shirts are given out in the form of grants to marine education and conservation organizations in the community, along with scholarships for the marine science departments at both the University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University.


“We gave out about $29,000 in grants and scholarships last year,” she said.

The grounds outside of The Community House will also feature a variety of must-sees.

“We have one tent that sells shells,” Matthys said, noting that there are thousands to choose from and the prices start at low as just 25 cents each. “A lot of them are beach shells that people donate.”

Sorted by volunteers at the facility, there will also be larger shells and fossils available.

At the Sanibel Shell Crafters tent, visitors can find shell jewelry, mirrors, flower arrangements and “shell critters.” The group meets regularly at The Community House to make the items for the festival.

“They sell the creations that they’ve been building all winter,” she said.

There will also be a live tank area with mollusks set up outside.

“We have sixth-graders from The Sanibel School,” Matthys said. “They are manning the tanks.”

For two months prior to the event, the students study shells and the animals that create them. If they pass the course test, they get to participate in the festival by sharing their knowledge with visitors.

“They have been studying about them and they share their information,” she said.

Matthys noted that the shell museum provides the live tanks.

The event will also feature a raffle giveaway, and food and drinks will be available for purchase.

Proceeds raised outside will go to the maintenance and support of The Community House.

Admission is free, with a $5 donation requested to enjoy the indoor show and activities. Those who donate will also receive free admission to the shell museum during the festival – a $15 value.

“And they get a little bag of free shells,” she said.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to come out for the event.

“If somebody has never been to the Sanibel Shell Festival before, they will have their socks knocked off,” Matthys said. “The artistic (division) is fantastic, and the shells are from all over the world. It’s both educational and it’s a feast for the eyes.”

For more information, call 503-871-1082 or visit sites.google.com/site/sanibelshellfestival.

The Community House is at 2173 Periwinkle Way.