Which Way to the Beach Glass?
Transforming the ultimate trash into treasure
Writer: Edna Troiano
The new three Rs — reuse, recycle, repurpose.
Repurposing creates a new use for an old item; an old yellow galosh becomes a colorful planter, driftwood becomes a lamp. But beach glass, says artisan Laura Schultz, is the “ultimate trash to treasure.”
Beach glass is simply shards of broken glass battered by waves, tumbled against rock and sand, and altered by the water’s chemicals until after decades, it becomes smooth, polished and often lightly frosted.
Although the terms sea glass and beach glass are usually used interchangeably, sea glass appears on the shores of seas, which have a higher salinity than fresh water, and beach glass is found on bays, rivers, lakes and other inland waterways.
Where does beach glass originate? Mostly from garbage.
Look what the tide dragged in
In early industrial times, glass from manufacturing facilities was often disposed of by being dumped into waterways. That means a stunning piece of blue glass might once have originated from the Noxzema factory in Baltimore or from a bottle containing poison. Hotels and resorts that once lined the Chesapeake Bay usually threw their dinnerware into the bay when they purchased new items.
Contents of garbage dumps were washed into waterways by storms or rising tides. And, of course, ships sometimes sank, releasing all their cargo into the water.
The most common colors are white (including clear), green and brown, primarily from Coke and beer bottles. The least common colors include orange, turquoise, red and yellow because these colors were rarely used in mass produced bottles or glassware.
While the idea of green earrings from Coke bottles or a brown pendant necklace from a beer bottle may seem peculiar, it’s the beauty of the glass coupled with the story behind it that most collectors find appealing.
Maryland found, Chesapeake tumbled
Laura Schultz of GlassSea Designs in Leonardtown found her first piece of beach glass at age 8 at Cecil County’s Seneca Point Club, a historic fishing and hunting lodge.
The lodge disposed of dinnerware and even stained-glass windows into the water, and over time Schultz collected both glass and ceramics, some dating back to the mid-1800s.
After she moved to St. Mary’s County, she expanded her collection and began making jewelry and wine charms.
Schultz describes her work as “Maryland-Found, Chesapeake Tumbled, Sea Glass Jewelry.” All the glass she sells is in its natural state, unpolished and untumbled. Her goal is to create a simple design to highlight the natural quality of the glass.
Although beach glass is commonly associated with jewelry, artisans find many ways to incorporate it.
When Susan Hill moved to St. George Island over 20 years ago, she found a treasure trove of beach glass and pottery right outside her door, much from an earlier island dump that had washed into the river.
A former antiques dealer, Hill creates new beauty from nature’s antiques that lie along the shore outside her home.
Accompanied by her two cats, Minnie and Moe, Hill prowls the beach looking for beach glass, pottery shards, shells and driftwood to incorporate into her art. Her Christmas ornaments, including clear glass bulbs filled with sand, tiny pieces of glass and periwinkle shells, are perennial favorites.
It’s her wreaths, however, that are her signature pieces.
Small wreaths might contain glass, driftwood, shells and silver crab charms. The larger wreaths, white glass and pottery with gentle pops of color, look as delicate and ethereal as the first spring flowers.
She sells her creations at Herring Creek Furniture in Great Mills.
Beach glass mecca
Susan Claggett’s business, Potomac River Glass Works, has been open for less than a year. She and her husband relocated to Southern Maryland 14 years ago.
Avid fishers, they were often on the water and finally bought a home along the Potomac. Their 200-foot beach is a mecca of beach glass, pottery fragments and various artifacts, such as clay pipes.
Claggett averages over 20 finds every time she goes out — more if she goes at low tide. However, if a piece of glass isn’t frosted or if its edges haven’t been smoothed over time, she throws it back into the water to mature.
She explains, “I’m selective because I can be.” She remains fascinated by the transformation of glass into refuse into treasure, finding it a symbol for life, and she stays motivated by “the joy of finding, creating and sharing.” Claggett’s best sellers are antique Mason jars filled with beach glass and strung with LED lights. Her mini Zen gardens come with sand, a rake and beach glass. Because she has so much high-quality beach glass, she also sells glass in bulk to jewelers. Like the other artisans, she uses what she finds on
the beach, attaching antique wooden fishing lures to pieces of driftwood and crafting small driftwood sailboats with linen sails. Jody Longhill became fascinated with mosaics in high school, studied art in college, and viewed ancient mosaics in her travels throughout Europe.
After retiring from Fairfax County Public Schools, she and her husband remodeled their Scientist Cliffs summer cabin into their permanent home.
At first, Longhill walked along the beach and collected shark teeth, but after she had over 1,000, she decided it was too easy. She missed drawing, so she began to create mosaics as the base for trays, using the nature surrounding her. Her trays include paintings of local wildlife — crabs, herons, eagles. She adds sand, shells, beach glass and her signature three shark teeth. She displays her trays at the annual craft fair Creative Cliffers.
Longhill’s customers, like her ingredients, are local — Scientist Cliffs people who come to her. At the request of clients, she plans to start framing her mosaics.
Dwindling supply Decades ago, plastics replaced glass for most bottles. Glass refuse is now recycled or put in landfills. Less glass enters waterways and, coupled with the popularity of collecting beach glass, the supply is dwindling. Some of the glass will be collected by artists and beachcombers, and some will gradually be ground down into sand, its original element.
Fortunately for Southern Marylanders, beaches in the tri-county area are still prime locales, so make your next beachcombing outing include a search for beach glass.
To increase the likelihood of success, choose a pebbly beach where glass is likely to become lodged between stones. Go out near low tide, so that more of the beach is exposed, and, if possible, go out after a storm, when more debris will have been tossed on shore.
When the sun is low in the horizon, the glass is likely to catch the sun’s rays and sparkle, making it far easier to spot. Happy hunting! •
LEARN MORE ABOUT THESE ARTISTS
• Susan Claggett — 240-419-1992; facebook.com/PRGWLLC/
• Susan Hill — Sells her work at Herring Creek Furniture; 301-994-1510
• Jody Longhill — 410-586-5409; email@example.com
• Laura Schultz — 240-561-9186; glassseadesigns.com