One of the most popular and well attended events on the islands is the Sanibel Shell Festival. This is the 76th year for the event, which kicks off a three-day run this weekend at the Sanibel Community House.
The event might have been around for 76 years, but this is the first with a new name. It has been known as the Sanibel Shell Fair & Shell Show since Hallie "Granny" Matthews organized the first event in the lobby of her hotel, which is the Sanibel Inn today. Since then, it has grown to lofty status that draws thousands of visitors to the grounds of the Community House.
The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 7 & 8 and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 9. Admission to the outdoor shell area is free and parking is free. There's a $5 donation to enter the indoor shell show. Food and beverages are available.
"We are hoping for good weather and a good crowd this year," said Lynette Kelly, who has been crafting shells for 12 years.
Last year, the festival celebrated Sanibel and Captiva as the top destination for shelling by organizing a massive crowd of bent-over shellers on the beaches that established a Guinness Book of World Record for simultaneous shelling, also known as the "Sanibel Stoop" or the "Captiva Crouch." This year's festival theme is "color your world."
While the Shell Festival draws attention for three days - March 7, 8 & 9 - shelling and shell crafting goes on all year round. Crafters tirelessly sort, assemble and store all types of shells for sale on Mondays at the Community House.
"With the exception of March, we create all year long," said longtime shell crafter Pat Schneider. "We make flowers, jewelry, wreaths, crosses and much, much more; and it's all done by volunteers, who use their creative abilities to produce quality shell crafts."
"Shelling is half the fun of shell crafting," said Sue Ross, who has crafted shells for 10 years.
World-class, prize-winning shell items are on display to be viewed or purchased by casual collectors, admirers or die-hard connoisseurs. There's a raffle of a week's getaway for two to Captiva's 'Tween Waters Inn, sterling silver shell bracelet, cackle shell earrings from Sealife by Congress, and a five-foot shell floor lamp filled with shells of the world donated by She Sells Sea Shells. Tickets are $5 each or three for $10 available at the Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way until the drawings at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The festival is a major fundraiser for the Sanibel Community Association and Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club.
For more information visit www.sanibelcommunityhouse.net, or call (239) 472-2155.