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Around Town : Exploring the Sanibel Shell Fair: 75th Anniversary!

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All year I receive the same question from avid crafters and collectors; what can I do or make with all of the shells I have collected on my vacation? To answer your question, I would like to share with you some of the photos I took at the 75th year of the Sanibel Shell Fair in Sanibel, Florida to inspire you. The Sanibel Shell Fair is sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club but is hosted at the Sanibel Community House. 

As you enter the Sanibel Shell Fair you are greeted by this sign welcoming you to the fair.


An oversized Junonia shell graces the entrance of the Shell Fair


Sanibel, Florida is known for its 300+ varieties of shells that wash up on its beaches. Located on the West Coast of Florida, near Fort Meyers, this is one of the most desirable destinations for shell collectors in the world. Recently I was lucky enough to attend the 75th Annual Shell Fair in Sanibel, Florida. Having gone to several of the past Sanibel Shell Fairs and even participating as a judge a few years ago, I can honestly say this was the best show yet because I went with my sister, Elizabeth Christo, also a fellow shell enthusiast.

My Sister, Elizabeth, enjoying a smoothie from one of the food vendors at the fair.

One of the many tents set up outside the Community House which sell shells and shell crafts.

There are so many beautiful types of shells that wash up on the shore. Its nice to see them in one place!

Outside of the Sanibel Community House they set up tents. These tents showcase shells that can be purchased as well as small shell crafts. This includes a shell-creation tent that sells small sculptures and figurines of animals made from shells and a flower tent that sells shell art that resembles beautiful blossoms.

My dear friend Kathy is one of the many volunteers in the shell-craft tent. Here she displays a beautiful shell-angel.

Goz Gosselin is not only a renowned shell-flower artist, but also was one of the volunteers at the Shell Fair. His work won many awards at the Fair. Here, we see him in the flower tent.

Jim and Claire are gracious enough to offer their expertise in Shell Repair for free!



Scientific Portion

Once inside the Community House, The  Shell Fair consists of a Scientific Portion and an Artistic Portion. One category I find most interesting in the Scientific Portion is called the Unusual Variants; Freaks, Albinos, Etc. Category.

Many people do not know that every species of shell has an albino. Most of the white shells we find laying on the sun-soaked beach have actually been bleached by the sun and are in fact, not albino shells. To find a true albino is very special.

My friend, Captain Brian Holaway.

Brian Holaway's Albino Single Shell entry won second place!

Captain Brian Holaway from Fort Meyers, Florida was a first time entry this year and recieved the Red Ribbon for the Single Shell: Unusual Variants, Albinos, Freaks, Etc. category. Check out his blog! He is a great shelling/nature guide and friend! He can take you out to the secret places on the Barrier Islands to find the rarest shells.


Joseph Weise's entry showed the comparison between a natural alphabet cone and its albino counterpart.

Joseph Weise exhibited a fantastic example of an alphabet cone and its albino. He received a White Ribbon for this rare find.


One category that was truly unique to this year’s Shell Fair was a series of exhibitions from collectors, which showcased shells in a way that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the fair. The criteria for the category was to use 75 shells. One of my favorite entries consisted of 3 cases of 25 shells each. Each of the trays contained shells of the same color, but a different species. All of these shells are local to Florida. I love the idea of grouping shells by hue rather than species. It makes for an absolutely breathtaking display.

This tray out of the 3-tray set contains 25 shells that are all orange.

The second tray contains all different shell species that are all yellow in hue.

The last tray in the 3-tray set shows all different shell species in their Albino forms!

This fantastic 3-tray collection was created and beautifully curated by Amy Tripp from Marco Island, Florida.


These are some of my favorite entries for the Scientific Portion of the show:

A collection of scallops. I love all the amazing natural colors.

more Scallops!

Black Tahitian Shell with Pearl



Artistic Portion

In the Artistic Portion of the fair, entries are judged in different categories for their expertise and beauty. This is by far some of the most amazing and time-consuming work I have seen.


I love Judy Mackey's work because of her unique use of vintage shells.

Judy Mackey's dyed vintage shells on an antique vase won second place.

Sally Jane Moore and her Fossil Shell Mirror which won a blue ribbon.

One of my favorite shell-artists is Judy Dinnick. Her work is carefully considered and intricate.

Judy Dinnick's intricate shell-covered ostrich egg.

Mini shell flower arrangement inside egg.

Farm Stand by Judilee Bennyhoff

Center detail of Judilee's "Farm Stand". Many of these shells are painted which is allowed in this category.

Mary Burton created these gorgeous paperweights with the inside of sea urchins.


Peter Gabel is a miniature artist whose work won a blue ribbon this year!

Peter Gabel's Miniature Shell Flower Arrangement won Blue Ribbon in the Hobbyist Category for miniature arrangement.

Walt Sheerin's Shell Orchid won Blue Ribbon.


I think one of my favorite exhibits of artwork at the show had to be Susan Lloyd's shell boxes and paperweights. They were stunning.

Susan Lloyd is an award winning Shell Artist. She was selling beautiful shell-covered boxes and paperweights.


A popular category in the Artistic division is the Sailor Valentine. Based on historical valentines brought back by sailors from Barbados to New England in the 1800's as souvenirs for their loved ones. First thought that the sailors crafted these valentine but, it turns out; these valentines were actually made by shell artists who worked at souvenir shops in Barbados. Either way, their beauty and immaculate craft was well received by the ladies. They were usually a 12 inch octagonal wooden box with intricate shell-work inside which included a photo or a love message.

These entries are then separated into 2 groups: Single Valentines, which are comprised of one panel and Double Valentines, which are comprised of two hinged together.

 Below are some of the amazing Sailor Valentine entries, some taking over 500 hours to create. And remember, all the shells are natural in color.



Judy Dinnick is a Canadian artist and creates amazing Shell Art. She has won several awards at the Sanibel Shell Fair including a blue ribbon for the Single Valentine below.

Judy Dinnick's Garden of Joy Single Valentine won Best Single Sailor Valentine: First Prize.

Detail of Judy Dinnick's Garden of Joy

Center of Single Valentine. All natural shells.


David Rhyne is an award-winning Sailor Valentine artist. His wife, Victoria, helps collect and sort his shells. Below is his Double Sailor Valentine, for which he won the blue ribbon.

David Rhyne's "Sayonara" won a blue ribbon for Best Double Valentine.

The left center detail of David Rhyne's "Sayonara"

Right Center Detail of "Sayonara". Fan is made out of Capiz Shell. Remember, all these shells are natural in color.


Sandy Moran is a renowned Sailor Valentine artist and teacher.  Her Valentines are inspired by New England; particularly Nantucket. Below is an image of one of her many Sailor's Valentines. This one is called Brant Point.

This Valentine was inspired by Brant Point Lighthouse in Nantucket.


The amount of talent displayed at this event is extraordinary. I am always blown away by the amount of time and care that is put into each and every entry. Bill Jordan's work always seems to catch my eye because of his attention to detail. I strongly encourage you to check out his website!

Bill Jordan is a famous shell artist and teacher.

Bill Jordan's shell, and sea urchin covered pocket watches are truly amazing.

This lovely little girl is wearing a skirt made of Sea Urchin Spines.

A poem by L.B. Minard with frame and artwork created by Bill Jordan.


If you would like to attend next year’s shell fair, check out the Sanibel Community House website. The Annual Shell Fair occurs the first Thursday of March and lasts for 3 days. The 2013 Shell Fair will be on March 7th, 8th, and 9th. I highly recommend attending! Free shell crafting classes are also available at the Sanibel Community House to learn these incredible techniques!

Comments (5)

  • What a wonderful post, I'm excited to decorate with shells now (perfect for a friend who just left for a tropical honeymoon!). Thanks!

  • Thank you so much for showing us these lovely pictures of the shell fair and the shell artists. I would really like to attend one of these fairs. I always like to see you and Martha doing something creative with shells.

  • I have been to Sanibel Island many times and I can tell you that it is not an hour away from Ft. Myers. five minutes tops, it is connected by a causeway and bridge. It is by far the best place in the U.S. to collect shells.

  • I remember Hannah sharing about this festival on the show last year. Never seen anything so beautiful, intricate and so interesting! Thank you so much for sharing. Going to have to make it to one sometime soon.

  • I was just shelling down by the Sanibel lighthouse yesterday. It's amazing what TS Debby washed up. Hope to see you next year!

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