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Annual Sanibel Shell Festival to showcase all things shells

By Staff | Mar 3, 2020

DIANE THOMAS The 2019 sailor’s valentine blue ribbon winner.

With the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva well-known for their seashells – and for 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, Shell Crafters and Sanibel Community Association, the 83rd Annual Sanibel Shell Festival will be held on March 5-6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Community House. It will feature a juried show, exhibits, shell sales and more.

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

“It is the longest-running and most prestigious shell show in the country,” 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.

DIANE THOMAS The 2019 Scientific Division blue ribbon exhibit of locally found shells.

Matthys, whose festival co-chairs are Sue Schoenherr and Mary Burton, added that the chance for photo opportunities will be available again. A hit among attendees when she debuted last year for the first time, “Sandy the Sunbather” mannequin will be back – with newly-added “Hank the Honk.”

“We’re in the process of getting Hank ready,” she said.

Other highlights this year will include the display of the Mermaid Crown and the non-competitive exhibit of shell art by local artist Goz Gosselin. Created by jewelry designer Todd Alan, the crown is 14-karat green gold and platinum, with clear and teal diamonds, green sapphires, and tourmalines.

Gosselin’s flower arrangements and shadow boxes have received top awards at competitions.

As for the juried show, it is broken down into two divisions: scientific and artistic. Last year, the participating exhibitors represented a total of four different countries, 23 states and 60 cities.

PHOTO PROVIDED “Shellabration” by Goz Gosselin

“The Scientific Division is a competition of shell collections,” Matthys said. “These are exhibits that can be a single shell or multiple shells. One of our multiple shell exhibits is 40-linear-feet long.”

She reported that this year there are 27 classes in the scientific division with the top placers each receiving a ribbon, plus an additional 16 special awards that are distributed. For the artistic division, there are 69 classes with a ribbon handed out to the top winners, plus an extra 25 special awards.

As for the artistic division, works of art have been entered by professionals and hobbyists.

“It goes from a single flower on a stem to a whole arrangement of flowers made out of shells. We get some pretty good size arrangements,” Matthys said. “Everything is made out of shells and or sea life – pieces of jewelry, shell-related needlecraft, pictures, and the popular ones are the sailor’s valentines.”

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

DIANE THOMAS The 2019 shell heart blue ribbon winner.

On March 5, Jennifer Schiff and Harlan Wittkopf – with Ken Vinton – are scheduled for the morning, followed by Jane Kirschner and Karen Bartlett in the afternoon. Schiff and Amanda Collett are set for the morning of March 6, followed by Collett, Ron Base and James Usavag later on.

March 7 will spotlight Bev Dolezal and Alice Cypress, then Barlett and Cypress.

“We will be having a shell identification clinic throughout the day,” Matthys said. “If people have a shell and they don’t know what it is, they can bring it in and have it identified.”

There will be shell-related games for adults and youth.

“We have a scavenger hunt for children to do while they’re in the exhibit hall,” she said.

DIANE THOMAS Scientific Division exhibit of miniature seashells from 2019.

Proceeds raised inside are given out by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club in the form of grants to marine education and conservation organizations locally, plus toward marine science college scholarships.

“Last year, we were able to give out over $30,000 in grants,” Matthys said.

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

“We have three tents that are set up,” Schoenherr said.

One is for the artistic creations of the Shell Crafters, a volunteer group.

“There’s floral arrangements, there’s mirrors. It’s all sorts of items that are made from shells and other marine life,” she said. “It’s all done by our volunteers – you’ll see some pretty amazing things.”

Another tent holds jewelry and “creations” by the Shell Crafters.

“Jewelry is making use of shells to make various items, from bracelets to earrings to necklaces,” Schoenherr said. “Creations – they’ll make a little animal like an owl or whale or elephants, Christmas ornaments, just a wide variety of different items.”

The final tent – a big hit among attendees – is for shells.

“The shell tent is where we sell loose shells,” she said, adding that there are all sizes. “We do have little ones, mini-shells. We have craft shells for people. We have lots and lots of Sanibel shells, as well.”

“We have a lot of other marine life,” Schoenherr added, citing sand dollars and fossil shells.

There will also be a live tank area set up with mollusks. Students from The Sanibel School will be manning the tanks and available to answer questions from attendees about the living creatures.

“That’s pretty neat for people to see,” she said.

A raffle giveaway will benefit the SCA and The Community House.

The prizes include a five-night stay at the ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa, shell pendant from Congress Jewelers, large murex shell specimen from Sanibel Seashell Industries, private tour of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum with lunch at Traders 2, shelling excursion with Captiva Cruises, and cone-shaped sculpture by Shell Crafter and artisan Beverly Visnesky.

Raffle tickets are $5 each, three for $10 or seven for $20.

“They don’t need to be present to win,” Schoenherr said.

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

“All of our funds will go to support The Community House,” she said.

During the festival, The Community House will also offer some activities, including shell education sessions throughout the day, a program making a pen-and-pencil sand dollar notecard and more.

Admission is free, with a $5 donation requested to enjoy the indoor show and activities. Attendees who donate will receive half-price admission to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum during the festival, plus a bag of shells.

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

“Everything is new every year and it just gets incredibly bigger and better,” Matthys said.

“You will not see anything like this any place else,” Schoenherr added. “It’s a fun event – to come out and see the local shells, where you don’t have to wade out into the water or bend over to get them.”

Parking is free, and food and beverages will be available for purchase.

For more information, visit sites.google.com/site/sanibelshellfestival. People can also contact Joyce Matthys at 503-871-1082 or Sue Schoenherr at 815-674-8871 or tbsas@icloud.com.

The Community House is at 2173 Periwinkle Way.