On the Hunt…
For Beach Glass
When I was expecting my first child, the Lamaze teacher told me to imagine a calming place, that go-to place in the mind where your senses engage in the most relaxing way to help lessen the pain of contractions. For me, that mental place was the beach. There is something about the gentle rolling waves lapping along the shore, the way your feet sink into the sand, the warm wind making sounds distant and muted, a kind of white noise.
My child is now 9 years old, and the beach is still my go-to spot for stress relief. Only now we throw a little friendly competition into our visits, for the landscape of the Lake Michigan beaches completely tempt us with the promise of beach glass.
What is beach glass?
When we first moved to Michigan ten years ago, I had never heard of beach glass. It wasn’t until many years later and my kids were old enough to be near the water without me having to watch them like a hawk that I first noticed the people shuffling along the shore of Lake Michigan with their heads turned down. They were looking for beach glass.
Pat Underwood, parks naturalist at Love Creek Nature Center outside of Berrien Springs, explains how this sought after glass is formed: “When a glass item is tossed into the water, it eventually gets broken up by rocks and the current and waves. Then after months or years of constant moving and tumbling in the sand and rocks, it becomes smooth and frosted with soft rounded edges.”
How can you increase your chance of finding beach glass?
Bette Mallen of Stevensville has been collecting beach glass along Lake Michigan shores since 1981. Though she will look for glass any time of day, she finds the early morning to be the best time for picking up glass.
Mallen explains, “By evening, the good stuff is gone as far as beach glass is concerned. It is especially good hunting after a storm or strong waves.”
Kelley Steffey of Sawyer has been collecting beach glass for eight years: “I find that early spring, late fall and after a storm are the best times to find glass.”
“If the waves are big, nothing along the water’s edge is available,” says Mallen.
“And in the summertime, beaches are more crowded with a lot of people looking for beach glass which makes it harder to find,” says Steffey.
What does beach glass look like?
My collection of beach glass is pretty pathetic, but even the small pieces of clear glass glistening in the sun make me giddy when I spy them sitting along the beach, like they’ve been waiting for me to come along (and not those annoying people who had the audacity to pass me up and search right in front of me in the direction I was walking first, but I digress…).
What colors of glass can you expect to find? “The most common color of glass is white/clear, dark green, and brown,” says Underwood, “thanks to beer bottles. Medium abundance (beach glass) is dark blue, lime green, and amber. Rare abundance (beach glass) is red, yellow, and orange.”
Steffey’s favorite find was a large light blue piece while Mallen has found cobalt blue, lavender, yellow, and red glass over her thirty years of searching. One of my favorite pieces is a large clear piece with the word “Coca-” written on it.
What do people do with beach glass?
It has been my experience that most people I know display their beach glass in some way. Steffey has seven large clear jars where she displays her glass along with a wide bowl in her living room, so people can easily see the variety of her finds.
“I have the beach glass in display jars on my book shelves,” says Mallen. “My new favorite wine is Sea Glass Sauvignon Blanc. The glass looks cool in those bottles. I have given away bottles to friends for their beach glass.”
Some people, however, are even more creative with their use of beach glass. Vicki Cook, a local artist, finds beach glass along Lake Michigan from Lions Park beach to Hagar Shores. Using her own finds or those of clients who commission her services, Cook designs earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets and other jewelry items.
“Each piece of beach glass is unique in shape and dimension, so I have to design a new setting for each piece of glass,” Cook says. “I start with a strip of silver and form it around the edge of the glass, then braze the ends together. This forms a complete band (called a bezel) to fit around the outside of the glass. Next I braze this band to a sheet of silver, saw out an opening behind the glass and around the outside of the bezel. There is a lot of drilling, filing and sanding involved in between all those steps.”
Cook’s work and commissions are available from her studio and in several local galleries. To learn more, visit her website at VCMetalworks.com.
Whether a hardcore collector, an artist using nature’s elements to craft with, or a casual beach grazer, finding beach glass along the shore of Lake Michigan is both rewarding and relaxing. So take your bucket, head down to the shoreline, use the sun’s rays to look for reflections, and pick up that sparkling beach glass. It’s waiting for you.