(Above) Scientific Division Co-Chair Bruce Schulz, center, watches the gathering crowd at the Shell Show Thursday with Scientific Division judges Dr. Jose Leal, left, and Robert Janowsky. (Below right) Mary Burton, Shell Show and Artistic Division chair, points out one of her favorites this year. (Bottom) Shell Festival Co-Chair Tyler Schoenherr talks shells with guests to the festival Thursday. SC photos by David Staver
(Above) Scientific Division Co-Chair Bruce Schulz, center, watches the gathering crowd at the Shell Show Thursday with Scientific Division judges Dr. Jose Leal, left, and Robert Janowsky. (Below right) Mary Burton, Shell Show and Artistic Division chair, points out one of her favorites this year. (Bottom) Shell Festival Co-Chair Tyler Schoenherr talks shells with guests to the festival Thursday. SC photos by David Staver

The gate to the Sanibel Shell Festival swung open at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, and it didn't take long for the grounds at the Community House and the Community House itself to start filling up.

It's always busy on Thursday morning, the first day, but this is a very good crowd. We are busy,” said Karen Turner, president of the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club. Turner spent her Thursday morning doing her best to greet all of the visitors to the Shell Show on the inside of the remodeled Sanibel Community House.

Dr. Jose Leal, science director and curator of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, wasn't that far from Turner. He dodged the incoming visitors with a big grin on his face.

It's a wonderful turnout so far, and there is very much to see,” Leal said.

He and Robert Janowsky of Wellington were this year's judges in the Scientific Division of the Shell Show.

I'm glad we didn't have to do the judging in this crowd,” Leal said with a glance toward Janowsky. The two men said judging the amazing exhibits this year was a challenge.

They were too good,” said Janowsky, an esteemed shell show judge, of this year's entries. “This is always an enjoyable show to judge, but we had to make razor-blade decisions among very good work.”

It's always a challenge. The quality of work is great,” Leal said.

This year marks the 80th edition of the Shell Festival, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. The Shell Club is honoring that milestone with a special class this year to go along with the theme “Around the World in 80 Shells.” Entries were required to use 80 shells.

Somebody came up with the idea – Around the World in 80 Shells – and it sounded good. We went with it,” said Bruce Schulz, who this year chairs the Scientific Division with Tom Annesley.

Leal and Janowsky joked over the fact that they kept getting different numbers as they tried to make sure there were exactly 80 shells in the entries.

We needed two more judges. The two of us ran out of fingers and toes,” quipped Janowsky.

Equally busy – and equally stunning – is this year's Artistic Division which finds itself in more open surroundings in the newly remodeled Community House.

We like to see this many people come through the door at the start,” said Shell Show veteran Mary Burton, who chairs both the Shell Show and the Artistic Division of the Shell Show. “We have wonderful sailors valentines, as we always do, and the other creations this year are again outstanding.”

Opening day of the Shell Festival began in grand fashion with a ribbon-cutting on the front steps of the Community House that signified both the 80th Shell Show and the new, modern Sanibel Community House. Joyce Matthys, a Shell Show leader for many years, did the cutting honors with Mayor Kevin Ruane while others, including City Councilmen Mick Denham and Jim Jennings, gathered around.

The Shell Festival and the Community House – both are Sanibel institutions,” Ruane said following the ribbon-cutting. Matthys gave the three city councilman a guided tour of the exhibits.

The Shell Festival comes on the heels of the recently completed Rotary Arts and Crafts Fair at the Community House which is reported to have drawn 8,000 visitors. The Shell Festival put the Community House and its grounds to the test again.

We still have a lot of little things we are ironing out, but things have gone well,” Teresa Risk-Hall, director of the Sanibel Community Association. She was also busy moving about the hall, meeting and greeting visitors, many of whom were getting their first look at the Community House.

The setup for the Sanibel Shell Crafters Shell Fair is a bit different than in the past due to the reorganization of the vegetation on the Community House grounds. An equal number of visitors could be found outside perusing the imaginative and often whimsical shell creations, not to mention just shopping for shells of all kinds at modest prices.

Tyler Schoenherr and his wife Sue have served as Shell Festival co-chairs for several years. On Thursday he could be found behind the counter under a tent explaining shells, and selling them.

We've got things set up differently than in the past, but there are a lot of people and we're pretty sure they can find their way,” Schoenherr said with a smile. “It rained for a few minutes. Just long enough to make us nervous, but the sun is out now.”

The afternoon temperature at the Shell Festival was 84 degrees. Friday is going to be partly sunny and not as warm with a high of 79, according to AccuWeather at santivachronicle.com. Saturday's high will be around 80. No rain is in the forecast.

(Above) Patrons fill the grounds the Community House Thursday on the opening day of the 80th Sanibel Shell Festival. (Below left) Pam Rambo, in hat, of Iloveshelling.com and owner of the Shell Bug talks about the unique car with some of the very interested observers. (Below right) The sailors valentines of David Rhyne are always one of the highlights of the Shell Show inside the Community House. SC photos by David Staver