Art and science are two fields of thought that don’t always interact. But when they do, as was the case at the annual Marco Island Shell Show, something interesting happens.
The shell show has long been a place where biology and art converge. The three-day event, now in its 38th year, hosts over 150 juried artistic and scientific shell exhibits.
The artistic displays are intricate, weaving a delicate line between nature and creative expression. Exhibitor’s displays range in style and theme but are connected by one recurring element: seashells.
The Marco Island Shell Club is comprised of a diverse group of shell enthusiasts, whose interests vary from marine conservation to arts and crafts. Their mission is to “promote the study, conservation, history, and science of seashells and mollusks, and to encourage shell-related interests such as collecting, crafting, and art.”
The popular art and science show is a major fundraising event for the shell club. Each year the group provides scholarships and grants to local university students enrolled in marine studies. The club also supports the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Tommie Barfield Elementary School, the Bailey- Matthews Shell Museum, the Marco Island Branch Library, and the Historical Society of Marco Island.
“We raise money to give to scholarships and grants,” Marco Island Shell Club President Kathy Benedik said. “The grants are all sorts of things.
We’ve given to the Rookery quite a bit, we’ve given graduate scholarships, and we have an endowment at FGCU that we funded.”
Among the show’s many presenters was Marge Tunnell, a retired biology teacher from South Carolina.
Tunnell enthusiastically addressed a crowd of curious shell show goers, explaining to them how she had acquired the jaw of a bull shark, which she proudly displayed.
Approximately 30 years ago, Marge Tunnell was at the beach when she encountered a group of shrimp fisher- men returning to shore. The group of men had inadvertently caught a bull shark in their nets. According to Tunnell, she seized the opportunity and convinced the fishermen to give her the shark. They obliged.
Tunnell’s love of marine biology is evident. As a teacher, she thought she would share the unique experience of dissecting a shark with her students.
“I took him [the shark] to school and laid him out on the table and the kids touched his eyeballs, which was so cool,” Tunnell said. “I let them rub his sandpaper skin backwards.”
Thankfully, she explained, when she cut open the shark’s stomach she only found semi-digested fish, no license plates or human parts.
In contrast to Tunnell’s shark jaw, creative exhibits included a delicate “Conch Candle Basket” by Cindy Wesolowski. The basket was made using over 100 adult and juvenile Florida conch shells. Other artistic exhibits included flowers made from shells as well as crowns and jewelry.
Interested buyers could peruse the shell club’s gift store, which was set up adjacent to the show. There was also an interactive marine tank with mollusks and other sea snails.
The Marco Island Shell Show takes place each year during the second weekend in March. For more information on the Marco Island Shell Club visit www.MarcoShellClub.com.