Sanibel Shell Show Marking 85 Years, Longest Running Of Its Kind

by SC Reporter Reanna Haase

Best Double Valentine Hobbyist from the 2020 Shell Show. SC photo by Chuck Larsen

This year marks the 85th Sanibel Shell Show, the longest-running show of its kind in the world. It started as a way for hotel guests to show off their collections and has turned into an event thousands of people come to experience.

Joyce Matthys, Co-Chair of the Sanibel Shell Club, said she had a feeling it would be the oldest.

“When we were getting ready for this 85th, which is another big landmark, I did some research…(and) I had correspondence with people in England, France, Germany, and Australia. We are the longest-running shell show in the world, of any kind, and we are the most prestigious in our country,” Matthys said.

The show started in the early 1900s at the Matthews Hotel, Island Inn today, as a simple showcase of the visitors’ shell collections. As attendance continued to grow, it was decided an official space for the annual shell show was needed. In 1927, a front section was added to the Sanibel Community House, which became that official space.

The show continues to be held at the Sanibel Community House, however, the pandemic caused it to go virtual last year. Matthys said there were about six hours of videos taken to ensure people still had the full experience of the famous shell show.

Shell creations by the Shell Crafters (Sanibel Shell Show 2014) SC file photos by Shannen Hayes

The effects of the ongoing pandemic are still being felt as many artists are unable to travel this year to showcase their exhibits. Co-Chair Mary Burton said they had artists from Japan, the Caribbean, Barbados, and Australia in past years.

“In 2020, the artistic division had 208 exhibits and right now we are at about 80 exhibits,” Burton said. “So, not having these people come from out of the country, as well as in the country, is really going to affect the show. Which is sad because it is the 85th anniversary,” Burton said.

With the effects of COVID-19 still hitting hard, the club has continued to push through. Just as in past years, the show will have both an artistic and scientific division to cover all areas of collections. The scientific division has many different classes such as self-collected or any source, so judges can evaluate all the contenders. Hobbyists and professional shell artists have their creations displayed in the artistic division.

Best in Show from 2020: Best Young Scientist Exhibit, top left, Best Fossil Exhibit, middle left, Best Fossil Shell of Show, bottom left; Best Single Sailor’s Valentine Hobbyist, center; Best Single Sailor’s Valentine, top right, Best Worldwide Shells Any Source, bottom right. SC photos by Chuck Larsen

“When I greet people…I say, ‘When you go into the next room, that is the artistic room, and that is what is going to knock your socks off.’ The art is incredible, absolutely incredible,” Matthys said.

Burton added the ‘hook’ of this year’s show will be the two exhibition pieces, the mermaid’s crown and a five-foot-tall heart covered in shells created by local artist Ginny Dickinson. The mermaid crown has been featured in a previous show, but the heart is a new exhibit being created for this year’s shell show. It will be featured at the Sanibel-Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce for 90 days following the shell show

Another part of the shell show is the outside festival area complete with shells and shell art for sale, food vendors, activities for children, and much more. The show will be March 3, 4, and 5 at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way. It is a $5 donation to experience all the Sanibel Shell Show has to offer.

The 2020 Sanibel Shell Show. SC video by Chuck Larsen

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