Centuries ago, shells were used by Sanibel's earliest settlers (the Calusa Indians) to fashion tools and implements vital to the sustenance of their tribe. All these years later, not so much has changed in that shells are still a celebrated component of life on this little island off the coast of Southwest Florida that has garnered distinction as one of the top shelling locations in the world. The beauty, the majesty and sheer wonder of shells is especially observed during Shellabration which recognizes a 75th Anniversary this year.
From February 17 to the first week of March, there will be events, lectures and special offers from area retail outlets that all serves to celebrate the shelling life of Sanibel. The realities associated with the popularity of shelling here has even given birth to a phrase that accounts of the physical practice one can so readily observe on local beaches - that act of bending down to retrieve a prized-find, recognized by those in-the-know as "The Sanibel Stoop." On February 17, at 9:00 a.m., participants in Shellabration will attempt to set a new Guiness World Record in having the largest turn-out for a massive Sanibel Stoop at Bowman's Beach.
While the documenting of that event will take mere minutes to complete, there are others on Sanibel who have been working almost year-long to participate in another cherished initiative in The Shell Fair, the largest and longest-running shell fair known to the world
Barb Walling displays some of her fabulous flower arrangements formed from shells which will be auctioned during The Shell Fair, March 1-3, at Sanibel Community House.
During the first three days of March, all manner of shell jewelry, shell art and accessory galore will be put-up for auction at The Sanibel Community House, thanks to the meticulous craft work of volunteers who have been using tools, wires, glue and whatever it takes to get their jobs accomplished.
Shell Fair Co-Chair Ann Arnoff says such activities all date back more than 70 years ago. Ann says back in the day, shell collectors would gather on the porch of the Island Inn to compare shell finds with one another and those casual meetings eventually culminated into more formal displays of shells and crafts created from shells. This ultimately led to the creation of the fair which became an annual fixture of the Sanibel Community House. For the last few months, Shell crafters have become a fixture of the Community House on Monday gatherings where many can be seen sorting and assembling all types of shells, tirelessly toiling, never seeming to get too, err, conched-out.
Arnoff is a retired occupational therapist, originally from Ohio, who has been involved with Shell Fair since 1988. She says shell crafters come from every corner of the world and from every professional background to be imagined. Their handiwork is evident in so many corners of Sanibel, whether it is displays at Sanibel's famous Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, or at the Sanibel Library, or Sanibel Museum & Historical Village. Arnoff says all have a natural fascination with the beauty of shells, but are equally passionate about transforming them into other objects of beauty. They're also admirers of the Sanibel Community Association, Sanibel's most senior community associatwhich is headquartered at The Community House. Since 1927, The Community House has served as a gathering place for a variety of civic events and membership meeting space for a wide number of local not-for-profits. The Community House served as the Island's first library, first cinema and was the very space where community forefathers assembled to enact the charter that created the City of Sanibel. Arnhoff says The Community House is "the heart of the island" and shell crafters are working to keep it beating, and maybe hoping to out-do one another along the way in creating prized possessions that will be up-for-grabs.
There's also some great prizes to be claimed during raffles associated with Shell Fair. Prizes include shell art encasements created by Bill Jordan, jewelry from Congress Jewelers and a week's worth of a retreat at 'Tween Waters Inn in Captiva.
And while many people may visit here because they love shells; Arnhoff says Shellabration functions as an annual festivity that helps people fall that much more in love with Sanibel.
The following is a few of the activities planned in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of Shellabration.
The Sanibel Stoop
Friday, February 17
Meet at Bowman's Beach to help set a Guinness Book of World Record for the world's largest Sanibel Stoop, includes a free t- shirt. Register by phoning (239) 472-2155. Sanibel Bike Club will lead a trip from the community park to Bowman's Beach at 9 am. Must register for transportation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for car pool or transportation help.
Monday, Febuary 27, 11:00 a.m. at The Sanctuary Golf Club
Luncheon and Fashion Show featuring one-of-a-kind shell-adorned fashions and accessories. Tickets are $35 and must be prepaid.
The 75th Annual Shell Fair
All manner of shell art, artifact and accessory up-for-auction on the grounds of The Sanibel Community House, March 1-3. There is no fee to attend Shell Fair, but to peruse indoor exhibitions, a $3.00 donation to the Shell Club is encouraged. For more info, phone (239) 472-2155.
Restaurants to Revel-In:
Cheeburger Cheeburger will sponsor a Shellabration kids coloring contest with prizes. The Great White Grill will serve-up a specially-created Shellabration Micro Brew. Sweet Melissa's will dish-out a delectable Shellabration dessert. Timbers will have tasty treats in edible mollusks.
Retailers Shell-out Support
At Billy's Bike and Rentals, all customers (on-line and in-store) receive a free raffle ticket for a chance to own a signed Shellabration poster designed by Sanibel Artist, Pam Brodersen.
JB Designs will feature cards designed by local photographer and Artist, Boyd Johnson of "Sanibel Shells"
MacIntosh Books will host a book signing for a Shellabration book to be announced later; includes an in-store promotion sponsored by Sea Sells Sea Shells.
Sanibel Sea Shells invites customers to compete in a round of scavenger jeopardy. See details online at www.seashells.com
Sanibel Sole will offer 15% off any shell jewelry.
Shiny Objects will gift customers with a free shell tote bag for purchases over $50. Additionally, select jewelry items will include the customer's choice of shell jewelry or trinket box. Restrictions apply, see store for details.
At Synergy, customers who buy $50 of "Life is Good" merchandise will receive a free pair of select shell, starfish or seahorse earrings.
At Watson MacRae Gallery, the "Sea Shells" Invitational Exhibition includes a week long exhibit of invited Sanibel artists and their inspirations in The Shells of Sanibel and the sea. The Feb 27th reception will be open to the public. In addition, the gallery will feature shell inspired pottery and glass from artists around the country during Shellabration week.
William E. Wilson Fine Jewelry, located in The Village Shops, joins Shellabration with hand-crafted jewelry creations. All signature 14-karat gold shell design jewelry- bracelets, pendants, earrings, will be offered at special sale prices. An additional 25% discount will be given during the entire week of the Shellabration.
Ding Darling: Shell-related reading at refuge session includes shell craft (Fri & Sat) 11:00 a.m. Also, free touch tank demo at Tarpon Bay Recreation Area
The Sanibel Public Library: "Shell Book Reading Displays" offering more than 350 shell-related books. In addition, favorite titles and rare books from the reference collection will be on display on the main level of the Library throughout February and March. While there, check-out the Fossil Shell Display on theGround Floor: 120 different species, aged from thousands to more than 5 million years old.
The Sanibel Historical Museum will have several shell collections on display throughout Shellabration week inside the Rutland Home, Burnap Cottage, Morning Glories and the Schoolhouse. There will also be a shell collection from Thomas Edison with a letter to authenticate it from Mina Edison.