Unusual Finds Along Chesapeake Bay

By Sharon Brubaker

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the skies were pierced with cries of enormous birds, something was happening geologically just below the water. Unusual formations in the silt and mud began to take shape that would, millions of years later, reveal themselves and wash up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. These “formations,” resembling hollow rock balls, tubes, ocarinas, and more avant-garde shapes, are created from sand, clay, and iron oxide.DSC_0555.jpgWhen my family and I first moved to the shores of the upper Chesapeake and roamed the beaches in search of beach glass, we also began to find peculiar, round, metal-like objects.  We felt certain they were a type of ammunition for guns used during the Revolutionary War because George Washington had munitions created in the Principio Iron Works just a heron’s flight across the bay, near the port of Charlestown.

Being new to the area and excited to show our finds to our neighbors, our newly found friends chuckled and told us that the strange formations were called ‘pop rocks,” small hollow stones of which our neighbors would toss into beach fires and watch them explode. Another neighbor told us that the formations (are) derived from ‘Indian paint pots” and that Native American tribes used the iron oxide inside the stones to paint their faces. But it was not until we met another neighbor, and now long-time friend, Alice Lundgren, that the mystery was solved. The formations, in all their various shapes, are known as “concretions.”

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Alice has a collection of well over a thousand concretions ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to about twelve inches, all of which she has gathered from the bay. Alice was a true inspiration to my family and me, and we soon joined forces to not only hunt for sea glass, but to eagerly search for concretions. These unusual rock formations date back to the late Cretaceous and Eocene eras.  Even more fascinating than the “pop rocks” are tubular rocks. The tubular concretions are iron oxide formations that reflect a pipe-like structure.

When we go exploring along our nearby beach, Alice, a seasoned concretion seeker, has the ability to spot the stone tubes instantly, yet the rest of us are not so fortunate, as the finds appear camouflaged to the untrained eye. Some of the concretions boast unique shapes, such as small cups, snowmen, and acorns while the tubular concretions often resemble coral, branches, and even small musical pipes (although they do not carry a tune))! Similar to sea glass, each concretion seems to carry its own story and personality.

Having been formed millions of years ago from sedimentary rock, concretions have been significant and mystical to many cultures. Some cultures believe them to be holy stones while other cultures believe the stones bring luck, or perhaps represent the divine feminine. However, theories of modern science suggest the concretions are fossils or meteorites.

As beachcombers, we are treasure-hunters.  We are always seeking the next great find. The Shard of the Year Contest, which is one of the highlights of the North American Sea Glass Association’s annual Festival, would be ideal opportunity to view both natural and manmade treasures (this year’s North American Sea Glass Festival will be held in Wildwood, New Jersey on October 27 – 28).

*Many thanks to Alice Lundgren for sharing her collection of concretions, and to Meredith Keating and Brandon Boas for their photography.

 

 

NASGA Meet the Member – Suzanne Hunter – The Sea Glass Grotto

NASGA’s Meet the Member Interview – Suzanne Hunter – The Sea Glass Grotto

Q: How did you learn about NASGA, and how long have you been a member of the association?

   A:   I heard about NASGA through it’s current President, Kim Hannon, when I participated in one of her events. I have been a member for 2 years as The Sea Glass Grotto.

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Q: Can you share your personal sea glass story, or how you discovered and developed a passion for tumbled treasures? 

A:   I started collecting with My grandmother, in North Wildwood New Jersey, in the 1970’s. Our nightly ritual when we were visiting would be to take stale bread to the beach after dinner to feed the birds, and find treasures!

Q: Please tell us about your particular craft or skill, such as tools and techniques, training and experience, and how your product or skill has evolved or changed over time. 

A:  I making wire Jewelry with telephone wire from my father when I was a child, I would wrap stones, and flowers, and make paper beads. I developed my own Silver Smithing skills with the help of many books and advice of other artists, but I am primarily self taught. Learning is a never ending journey.

Q: Are you also a sea glass collector (or do you solely enjoy working on your craft or skill)? If you are a collector, can you tell us about your collection, and is difficult to part with some of your creations or favorite pieces?

A:  I am a collector, and I have many pieces I will never part with, those are special to me because I treasure the memories of my childhood and my grandparents that they evoke. I keep them stashed away in my jewelry box.

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Q: Can you share some of the joys and challenges of your business and craft?

A:   The biggest joy and challenge is sharing the difference between real and artificial Sea Glass. It is wonderful to be able to educate people on the differences while also sharing memories, or stories, I feel like beachcombing as a whole is a very personal journey for each individual and I hear many stories about those adventures.

Q: How does your NASGA membership benefit you professionally and/or personally?

A:   I have the backing of a wonderful organization who stands behind it’s artists as being genuine sea glass and handcrafted wares.

 Seafoam Heart setQ: Do you plan to exhibit at the upcoming festival in Wildwood, New Jersey, and is there a particular NASGA festival that stands out as a favorite, or a memorable experience associated with a previous NASGA festival?

A:   I am extremely excited about this year’s festival since it is in my home county. Wildwood, and Cape May County are absolutely wonderful in the fall, with a wide variety of events, wonder dining and fabulous weather, and I am looking forward to “hosting” my fellow NASGA members and sharing some of my favorites!

 

Q: Can you tell us about some of your other interests or hobbies?

A:   Being a mom, most of my favorite hobbies revolve around my kids, but as a family we enjoy beach time, camping and cooking. We are currently in the planning stages of a lengthy cross country trip in our Winnebago.

Q: How can the public learn more about your craft or skill, inquire about your calendar (upcoming exhibits or events), and/or contact you if desired?

A:  I am not as tech savvy as I wish I was so the easiest platforms for me are on Facebook The Sea Glass Grotto and Instagram.

NASGA Meet the Member – Don Bernard – Ptowntreasures

NASGA’s Meet the Member Interview – Don Bernard – PTownTreasures

Q: How did you learn about NASGA, and how long have you been a member of the association?

   A:  I found about NASGA , in 2008, while researching articles about sea glass and joined in 2017 as a Commercial Member as Ptowntreasures.

Q: Can you share your personal sea glass story, or how you discovered and developed a passion for tumbled treasures? 

DSC09388A:  I had a jar of beach stones in my office when a co-worker saw it and asked why not sea glass. She explained what it was and where I could find it on the beach. Our next vacation turned into a beach glass expedition with the entire family involved. From then on finding beach glass became an obsession that we all still enjoy and have spread that thrill to several friends. It never gets boring and we have a very large collection of glass and pottery collected from the beaches of Cape Cod.

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Q: Please tell us about your particular craft or skill, such as tools and techniques, training and experience, and how your product or skill has evolved or changed over time. 

A:  In 2013 our sea glass collection was growing larger with jars and containers full of glass and pottery. My daughter suggested I might look into making jewelry. I had no idea what was involved but thought it might make an interesting hobby, having retired in 2009 after 40 years as an Electronics Engineer. Further research led me to the Worcester MA Center for Crafts and their jewelry fabrication courses with a concentration on metals, i.e., silver, copper, brass. I took all three of the 6 week courses and started making jewelry. We were instructed in soldering, forming metals, making of different jewelry items, hand tools, finishing and polishing. That was in 2013, since then I have set up two studios, one in North Truro MA and the other in my home in Uxbridge MA. My daughter started to take some pieces to work and sold them. I was soon taking orders and set up my shop on Etsy and started to participate in Provincetown MA craft fairs. I have sold over 300 pieces and shipped to many parts of the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. I now fabricate rings, various styles of bracelets, pendants, dangle and stud earrings. What started as a hobby has turned into a small business that I truly enjoy doing.

DSC01347Q: Are you also a sea glass collector (or do you solely enjoy working on your craft or skill)? If you are a collector, can you tell us about your collection, and is difficult to part with some of your creations or favorite pieces?

A:  We collect for the joy of collecting, searching and of course finding sea glass and pottery. One of the two grandsons has an eye for black glass and has located an area that he goes to to find his treasures. I separate the jewelry quality pieces from the seconds. The exceptionally nice pieces of glass get turned into jewelry which our daughter quickly appropriates for herself. I think I might need a safe to hide them! I mentioned we have converted several friends to searching, one in particular is Ed Drzazga, my friend from the Navy, going back 50 years. He sends us pieces from Lake Erie. He was hooked on sea glass after visiting us in 2014, it has turned into a great way for him to exercise.

DSC01377Q: Can you share some of the joys and challenges of your business and craft?

A:  That’s a question with a simple answer! The challenge is making pieces that are fun to make and to try and anticipate what our customers want. The joy is when they purchase the items and even more joy when a custom order turns out to be what they had envisioned.

Q: How does your NASGA membership benefit you professionally and/or personally?

A:  My membership allows me to display the NASGA logo and the establish credentials as someone who knows real sea glass from the items sold to unsuspecting individuals. Personally it makes it incumbent on me to research and read as much as possible regarding sea glass.

 Q: Do you plan to exhibit at the upcoming festival in Wildwood, New Jersey, and is there a particular NASGA festival that stands out as a favorite, or a memorable experience associated with a previous NASGA festival?

A:  Unfortunately my current schedule does’t allow me to attend. I have not been to any sea glass festivals.

Q: Can you tell us about some of your other interests or hobbies?

A:  I love to fly kites. I have been doing this for 18 years now. I have approximately 40 kites, single line, dual line and a four line kite. I used to fly in Newport RI and local fields in Uxbridge MA. My place of employment had several fields so myself and a friend flew almost daily, weather permitting. When I retired my staff presented me with a large luna moth kite, only 200 had been made.

Q: How can the public learn more about your craft or skill, inquire about your calendar (upcoming exhibits or events), and/or contact you if desired?

A:  The public can learn a lot by visiting the NASGA website or going to their local library and check out the books dealing with sea glass. I can be contacted via my website www.ptowntreasures.com. I participate weekly in the craft fair in Provincetown MA at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Commercial St, every Thursday starting June 21, 2018 until the end of August and at the Truro Treasures craft fair held in September.

The Hidden Gems of the Annual Sea Glass Festival: A Look Behind the Scenes

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Volunteers during our 2017 North American Sea Glass Festival, creating new friends and memories to last a lifetime!

For sea glass enthusiasts, there are many reasons to celebrate the spring, one of which is the highly anticipated announcement of NASGA’s annual festival. Hence, as recently publicized, the association’s 13th annual North American Sea Glass Festival will take place on Oct. 27 – 28 at The Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Although it can be difficult to capture the wonder of the festival in words, chairperson Roxann Williams paints a fairly accurate picture: “The North American Sea Glass Association is unique; it is a love of history, reclamation, recycling, and treasure -hunting, all wrapped into one. It’s extremely rewarding to see the excitement and joy of our attendees as they learn through our lectures and shard identification experts, and purchase unique and artistic pieces from the exhibitors to add to their home and jewelry collections.”

However, unlike annual events that are held in the same location, and on similar dates each year, the fact that the sea glass festival is a “traveling show” requires never ending planning and fails to lighten the workload from one year to the next. For instance, solely selecting a venue each year – one that can not only accommodate the specific needs of the festival, but is also affordable, conveniently located for the majority of exhibitors and attendees, and available on preferable dates – can be particularly challenging. Promoting and advertising the event can be trying too, especially since the members of the planning committee, who also vary from year to year, are often unfamiliar with the city chosen to host the event. Yet probably the most difficult task associated with a traveling festival is recruiting volunteers, and NASGA could not be more blessed in this area.

While enlisting help is vital to the success of a show, it requires a very special person to establish a group of loyal, devoted volunteers. Therefore, the association is indebted to our festival chairperson, who just happens to possess such talent. Williams, an ardent sea glass fan who has extensive experience in the non-profit sector, was asked to chair NASGA’s fifth annual festival in Hyannis Port, MA during 2010, and no one else has been given a chance to fill her shoes ever since. Her strong organizational skills and compassionate nature make Williams an ideal mentor and leader, and she has a knack for fostering meaningful friendships and camaraderie among the festival volunteers. As long-time NASGA volunteer Dr. Barbara Boyce states, “The people are the reason I volunteer my time for this event, and Roxann (Williams) and her husband, Steve, are great people and easy to work with. They deal extremely well with all of the challenges and stresses of putting on a fantastic festival.”

According to Williams, without the excitement and commitment of the volunteers, it would be difficult to handle all of the behind-the-scenes tasks that allow the festival to operate smoothly. Throughout the event, as avid hobbyists display their impressive sea glass collections, exhibitors offer their artwork and books, and speakers share their special knowledge, the volunteers oversee NASGA’s information table, distribute tickets and programs, answer questions, direct attendees, and provide coverage for exhibitor booths. And on Sunday, the second and final day of the show, the volunteers assist with the culminating event, the infamous SOTY (“Shard Of The Year”) Contest, which many consider the highlight of the festival. For the contest, attendees are encouraged to enter their most impressive sea glass finds, and cash prizes are awarded for the “winning shard” in each category (frosted bottle, art glass, buttons/beads, figural, most unusual, whimsical toys, pottery/ceramics, historical, marbles, and the grand prize, the “Overall Beauty”). The contest is comparable to a “traveling sea glass museum” and is an absolute treat for those interested in the pastime.

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Dr. Barbara Boyce & Sharon Brubaker enjoying some beachcoming together.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Boyce and her friend Sharon Brubaker were inspired to contribute to the event due to their mutual affection for sea glass. In September of 2014, the two friends embarked on a road trip to Cape May, New Jersey to volunteer at the association’s 9th annual festival, which proved to be a particularly memorable experience. For the first time in the show’s history, the number of attendees exceeded the maximum capacity of the ballroom, and the fire marshal had to step in to monitor the number of individuals exiting and entering the hall. As Boyce suggests, “The Cape May NASGA festival was my first experience. Every person who attended can likely recall a crazy, fun, and crowded time. I was hooked. I thought I was familiar with sea glass through reading, but I realized that I had much to learn. The folks at NASGA are the experts, and I drank in every word and could not wait until the next year to volunteer.” Today, both Boyce and Brubaker are extremely knowledgeable about sea glass, and it is a joy to observe them respond to questions from attendees and help educate the public about the tumbled treasures.

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Faith McCarthy, the festival’s youngest volunteer and 2017 NASGA documentary, “Sea Glass around the Globe” producer/director

Each year, the allure of the hobby encourages seasoned and new volunteers alike to contribute to the festival. Among the group of devoted “regulars” are mother and daughter teams, husband and wife pairs, and close peers who share a passion for sea glass and enjoy working together. Some volunteers have been assisting at the festival for over six years, and as each show kicks off, it is especially rewarding to overhear shrieks of delight as friendships are reignited between returning exhibitors, volunteers, and attendees. Yet even though NASGA is blessed with loyal volunteers, further support at the show is always welcome, so the association reaches out by advertising on the festival’s Facebook page and contacting local sea glass groups and non-profits, as well as the hosting city’s Chamber of Commerce in an effort to recruit enthusiasts.

Particularly when an event is running smoothly, attendees are unlikely to give any thought to the source of organization and support behind the scenes. Therefore, it bodes well for the sea glass festival that those who are busy pulling the strings often go unnoticed. However, if it seems to defy logic that the individuals who do the most work also receive the least amount of credit, keep in mind that the explanation is all in a name: “volunteer” – a person who does something, especially for other people or for an organization, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it” (dictionary.cambridge.org). A statement made by volunteer Sharon Brubaker lends credence to the definition, “It has been a pleasure to interact with everyone at NASGA.  Now that I am a repeat volunteer, I genuinely look forward to seeing sea glass kindred spirits each year.”  Without a doubt, the NASGA volunteers are the hidden gems of the annual festival.

Interested in Volunteering this year for our 13th Annual North American Sea Glass Festival in Wildwood, NJ on October 27-28, 2018? Please email Roxann at festival@seaglassassociation.org

The Slowly Vanishing Gems

by Ellie Mercier

While beachcombing last week, I began to reminisce about the frequent “aha moments” associated with the thrill of the hunt. Less than two decades ago, a morning stroll along my usual stretch of the Chesapeake Bay would undoubtedly yield a pail full of treasures, including smoothly tumbled bottlenecks, colorful shards of historic pottery, and cobalt Bromo-Seltzer bottles, which were manufactured in Baltimore between the turn-of-the-century and the 1970s.

However, my fond memories of bountiful finds faded as I pondered the gradual decline of sea glass carried ashore with each passing year. Although a variety of circumstances have contributed to the slowly vanishing gems, legislation passed in the mid-to-late twentieth century to protect the environment is largely responsible. Without a doubt, the state of the environment takes precedence over a mere hobby, and regulations designed to cleanup the oceans have certainly benefited global ecology and marine life. Yet ever since the 1970s, when the centuries-long practice of discarding refuse into the world’s waterways came to a halt, discovering sea glass has become increasingly more challenging. Probably the most drastic threat to the hobby was the abrupt closing of popular dumpsites adjacent to rivers and beaches, which cutoff an endless supply of bottles and jars that would otherwise have been washed ashore decades later in the form of desirable, frosty finds.

Also responsible for the dwindling number of tumbled treasures, although to a much lesser degree than environmental regulations, was the widespread switch from glass to plastic. As Digger Odell, the notable bottle author and collector states, “Plastic was the undoing of the glass bottle” (bottlebooks.com). Some ecologists believe that Tupperware, introduced in 1946, paved the way for the plastic bottle. Yet manufacturing bottles from plastic was not affordable until the 1960s, when high-density Polyethylene (PET) became available, and soon thereafter, plastic became preferred over glass due to the lighter weight and lower cost. In fact, only ten years after switching to cans, Coca-Cola began to use plastic bottles in 1970.

According to Odell, “The invention of PET plastic forced both Owens of Illinois and Continental Can Company to join the movement to plastic.” Michael J. Owens, of the Owens Bottle Company founded in 1903, is credited with the invention of the automatic bottle machine (ABM), and avid collectors are likely to possess numerous remnants derived from Owens bottles and jars. Incidentally, the company, which was renamed the Owens Bottle Machine Corporation in 1907, became the Owens – Illinois Glass Company in 1929 due to a merger and continues to produce over half of the world’s glass containers.

Although advancements in bottle production have had little impact on the existing quantity of sea glass, the same cannot be said for the quality of found treasure. When the era of hand-blown bottles came to end during the late nineteenth century, bottles lost many of their charming qualities, characteristics that boast historical significance and often provide clues to effectively date and identify finds. To illustrate, bottle bases that possess a pontil mark – a brownish or reddish residue caused by the removal of a punty rod, a long tool that was used to hold the hot bottle while the lip was manually formed – date prior to 1858, while shards that feature hand-tooled lips are associated with bottles produced between 1870 and 1910. Other clues that enable collectors to identify found treasure include color, evidence of embossing, and bubbles present in the glass. Conversely, all bottles manufactured after the mid-1920s are machine-made and reflect little variation. Finds derived from such objects are limited to typical machine-produced shades of colorless, amber, and green, and possess thin even mold seams that rise all the way to the bottle’s lip.

A steady decline in shipwrecks has also played a small part in the dwindling quantity of treasure swirling through the waterways. Again, alike environmental regulations, the correlation between shipwrecks and the quantity of sea glass is not at all intended to minimize the vital importance of safer ship travel. Credit for the decline in shipwrecks largely belongs to advancements in navigational technology, improved ship design, and international maritime legislation.

Historically, more ships have wrecked due to running aground on rocks, sandbars, or coral reefs, so state-of-the-art improvements in navigation have particularly increased the safety of ships close to land. Yet these very developments have also had a small impact on the quantity of remnants that wash ashore. Because glass and pottery do not float, treasure that escapes into the sea during a wreck rarely travels far from the point of entry into the water. Thus, unless a shipwreck occurs near the coast, it is unlikely that any potential finds would be carried to shore. However, more relevant to the dwindling supply of sea glass is the fact that close to three million wrecks remain undiscovered on the ocean floor, many of which are trapped in the depths of the sea, so the challenge for beachcombers is not a lack of shipwrecked treasure, but the inability to access the treasure.

As my search along the bay came to an end, a glimpse into my not-quite-half-full pail proved to be a cruel reminder of the circumstances that plague collectors. Feeling defeated, I began to ascend the steep wooden stairway to the top of the cliffs, all the while striving to invent a silver lining. Suddenly, a second glance into my pail generated an unexpected epiphany: alike other pleasures enjoyed in moderation, such as the occasional indulgence in a banana split, perhaps the case of the slowly vanishing gems simply warrants further celebration of the “aha moments.” With a brighter outlook, I reached into the pail to inspect my finds. My fingers first encountered assorted seashells, followed by a few prized pieces of driftwood and a sprinkling of shark’s teeth, all of which I looked forward to incorporating into projects. Eventually, my sandy paws made their way to the bottom of the bucket and retrieved two handfuls of smoothly tumbled, frosty gems, and despite the ordinary colors, I relished in the moment.