In June 1981, the newly formed Marco Island Shell Club, aided by the Chamber of Commerce, attracted exhibitors and visitors from both Naples and Marco Island with their first Shell Show. The Marco Eagle called it a “huge success.” The club proudly points to its successful ongoing fund raising to support scholarships.
This year, the Shell Show took place from March 12-14, at the Presbyterian Church. Following a well-established protocol, there were two major divisions, artistic and scientific, with awards in each. Sizing and preparation rules for entries in each division are specific and carefully enforced.
The show featured a raffle of creations by a club artist and other shell-themed prizes. The “for sale” section of the show did a lively, brisk business for all three show days. Club members were full of knowledge and could be seen answering questions, directing visitors to exhibits and explaining everything from “What’s that shell?” to “Where did they find all of those colors?”
Trophies, ribbons and plaques are awarded by two judges in each category. The Mary C. Maerker plaque for the best exhibit in the Artistic Division, non-commercial, was presented to Sheila McFarland by John Maerker, in memory of his wife Mary, a charter member of the Shell Club. John works for the club tirelessly and is an enthusiastic participant in the club activities.
The judges for this year’s show included Phyllis Gray, Orlando, and Betty Lipe, Seminole, for the Artistic Division, and Robert Lipe, Seminole, and Gary Schmelz, Ph.D., Naples, for the Scientific Division. Schmelz explained that the criteria for judging are specific, with accuracy and completeness as the top priorities. Labelling is important, to demonstrate the exhibitor’s ability to identify and display the shells and information in an interesting, scientific manner.
Betty Lipe, an educational specialist with the Extension Service, specializing in Marine Environmental Studies, says she enjoys sharing her interest in shells with students of all ages. As a judge in the artistic division, she says it’s always a tough job to assess the creative efforts of shell-lovers and crafters and often, it’s a subjective decision on the part of the judge. Creativity and uniqueness are often the only differences between two similar subjects, and it’s the judge’s eye that makes the final determination.
Exhibitor Dominga Ong has a degree in civil engineering, which clearly contributed to her rendering of a hotel and the entrance to South Beach. Exhibitor Brandy Llewellyn, of Sanibel, who is originally from Colorado, displayed her “Sailor’s Valentine,” in two different sizes.
Exhibitor and architect Charles Barr described his trip to Fiji and his discovery of tapa cloth, which his display of Fiji shells recreated in both design and color. Barr won the Shell Show Committee Trophy for the best commercial exhibit.
Shell Club President Saundra Martell proudly describes the regular activities of the club, which include weekly meetings to create the shell crafts both for exhibit and for sale. She is very excited about the club’s new partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University.
“Instead of just a scholarship,” she explains, “We will be participating in a competitive scholarship program with FCGU’s Department of Marine and Environmental Biology. We’re hoping to be able to fund a graduate, as well as undergraduate grant, for study in the area, for which students will compete. The college is just as excited as we are.”
Other programs developed by the club include Buddy Day with Hideaway Beach, when children come in and partner with members and residents to learn about the environment in several locations on Hideaway properties. The club participates in Conservation Day on Marco Island and offers educational programs about shells and marine environments to local schools, with monthly educational programs for adults.
The Marco Shell Club is active all year, with summer activities concentrating on collecting and crafting. There are currently 110 active members, who join in shell hunts and picnics, an annual Christmas cocktail party and volunteer educational programs. The club maintains a display at the Marco Island Library, a shell display at Tigertail Beach and another at Resident’s Beach. In addition to the annual sale at the Shell Show, the club holds sidewalk sales at various public locations and a Spring Sale at the Farmer’s Market at Mackle Park. Shell Talks are held on the first Thursday of the month, from November through April, at the Presbyterian Church.
Joining the Shell Club is easy–just come to a meeting. Annual individual membership is $15 per year and a household membership is $20.