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A passion of creativity, combined with the love of shells, has kept a group alive for numerous decades

November 23, 2016
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Once a week shell enthusiast have gathered and shared their love of creativity while making a vast assortment of shell inspired projects - anything from jewelry to intricate flower arrangements, for many decades.

Ann Arnoff said in 1990 the name of the group changed from Driftwood to the Sanibel Shell Crafters. Driftwood began in the 1950s as part of the Shell Fair and Shell Show and traditionally met once a week to make things to sell at the annual Shell Fair, or enter into the Shell Show. Arnoff said Millie Bacchus and Dorothy Putnam were instrumental in starting the group.

During the summertime the Sanibel Shell Crafters attracts about a dozen people, Lynette Kelly said, which often times grows to as many as 60 people during the winter months.

Article Photos

Gloria Stapleton carefully places shell pedals on a platform.


"I love the shells and the creativity of doing something with them," she said of why she joined the club 14 years ago. "Everyone comes with new ideas."

The Shell Crafters have had a temporary home since the Community House began its renovation project at the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ. Every Monday the shell enthusiast meet and spend hours together creating beautifully inspired creations using donated and purchased shells.

This year the Shell Crafters creations can be viewed, and purchased, during the annual Luminary Holiday Stroll next month.

Many of the women who gathered last Monday were introduced to the Sanibel Shell Crafters through a friend and almost instantly became hooked.

For Gloria Stapleton it was the new friendships and continuous discovery of new ideas that has kept her coming back week after week for more than 10 years.

"You learn as you go," she said.

Her skill of creating small flowers, flower arrangements and bird houses, all made out of shells, evolve as Stapleton continues to stumble upon new ways to perfect her craft. One of those skills is using wrapped wire to make a platform for the shell flowers, which are applied with glue.

"You run into a new problem and you have to be inventive," she said. "You are always learning better ways to do things."

Some problems have been conquered with knowing which glue to use when creating her projects. Stapleton uses tacky glue, Elmer's, hot glue guns and hot glue pots.

Barbara McClure shared a similar story of how she got started. Seven years ago she saw a sign at the Community House and decided to check things out. McClure said she was on vacation when she stopped by and did not have her tool box. The following year she returned with her tool box of supplies.

"It's a wonderful group to work with," she said, adding that she enjoys the challenge of being creative. "It's play therapy."

For many years she worked with silk flowers, which she said utilizes the same mechanics she applies to creating items with shells.

"It's a wonderful interaction with shells," McClure said, adding that she loves being apart of the group because of the creativity, socialism and opportunity to support the Community House.

Last week she was strategically placing shells, esthetically pleasing to the eye, in a large chest that was given to her. The accumulation of shells ranged from large to small in a variety of colors.

"I begin in the back and work towards the front," she said about the trial and error process of placing the shells just so. It's like "making a puzzle."

Styrofoam was placed in the chest, so McClure could attach the shells, as well as moss.

"I place the large shells and then fit in unique things," she said.

In addition to her chest creations, McClure also creates shell flower arrangements and shell trees.

As Pat Schneider and Ann Reardon created one-of-a-kind shell jewelry, laughter ignited between the two women as they shared stories.

"I have met so many people," Schneider said about joining the Sanibel Shell Crafters 15 years ago after a friend introduced her.

The creativity and the constant evolution of her craft is what has kept the excitement.

"You use creativity you didn't know you had," Schneider said.

Eight years ago after stepping foot in a beading store, she was hooked, which led to making jewelry with shells.

"I bead every day of the week. It makes you feel good," Schneider said.

With any type of creativity challenges surface, especially when using shells to create matching pieces of jewelry.

The shells are "a gift from Mother Nature," she said. "We know there are no duplicates."

Reardon joined the crafters two years ago after moving to the island. The fiber artist was attracted to the craft of creating jewelry.

"It's a good way to recycle Mother Nature's things for others to enjoy," she said of why she enjoys creating shell jewelry.

Reardon said over the years she has learned that she does not need to be as particular as she thought she needed to be.

"It's very addictive," she said.

Stapleton said the items the Shell Crafters make are sold year round, as well as at the annual Sanibel Shell Festival, which is celebrating its 80th year March 2-4. She said they make an average of $65,000 a year between the show and yearlong sales, which is all donated back to The Community House.

"It's kind of a charity," Stapleton said.

The 80th annual Sanibel Shell Festival will be held Thursday, March 2, Friday, March 3, and Saturday, March 4, at The Community House. The festival will showcase shells, shell art, crafts, books and a judged artistic and scientific exhibit, as well as live mollusk tanks. Admission is free for the outdoor shell area, and a $5 donation is requested to enter the shell show.



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