IF YOU LIKE BEACHCOMBING, NO DOUBT YOU WILL HAVE ALSO PICKED UP A PIECE OF GLASS, GROUND SMOOTH AND FROSTY BY THE SANE AND OCEAN. IT’S A FIND LIKE A TREASURE. AND WITH A LITTLE IMAGINATION AND CRAFTY SKILL IT COULD BE TURNED INTO SOMETHING EVEN MORE PRECIOUS…
These pictures show collections of sea glass from Victorian designer Amanda Hilditch who is creating beautiful jewellery using beach ‘gems’.
by Judy Newman
My sea glass sits in a jar at home looking pretty, but some creative people are using it to make beautiful jewellery. On further investigation, sea glass has quite a following – there is even a Sea Glass Association (in the USA) which has its own Sea Glass Festival with competitions and awards, and there are books about collecting and identifying sea glass. So it looks like I’m not the only one who is attracted to those frosty smooth pieces of coloured glass. I asked Australian jewellery designer Amanda Hilditch from Mornington Sea Glass in Victoria some questions about creating with sea glass.
How did you start working with sea glass? When our daughter was younger she believed mermaids in the Bay used to leave her little piles of treasure for her to find. I initially got caught up in her excitement and began filling vases and bowls around the house. My business defining moment was finding a beautiful tear shaped drop of white glass that I knew I just had to wear somehow. I rushed home and searched on the computer for sea glass jewellery and this whole fantastic world of overseas artists, collectors and festivals dedicated solely to sea glass opened up. I was hooked immediately. My husband (Paul) who is incredibly creative also became involved and it is great to have a shared passion.
Why have you chosen to use this material as opposed to other ‘gems’ or glass beads etc? We love working with sea glass for a number of reasons. Firstly we admire the ocean’s ability to reshape and give new life to glass that has been tossed away. Sea glass is not perfectly smooth and is rarely flawless. This is what we treasure the most as it is how you know you have something that is truly old and unique and has been shaped by nature itself. Secondly, there is so much history in each little shard of glass. For example, some pieces were originally hand blown by glassmakers in the 1800s to early 1900s, some used to be glassware from the depression era or could have even been a Coca Cola bottle in the 60s!
Finding old pieces of glass is incredibly exciting, it is like discovering a little piece of your town’s past. My favourite quote about sea glass collecting is from the New York Times when it recently described it as, “a hobby that seems an odd mix of amateur archaeology, environmental monitoring and antique collecting, with a little chemistry thrown in.” To work with sea glass you definitely have to keep reminding yourself that the ocean is in control! You can’t put in an order with the sea for certain colours or shapes; you work with what washes up along the shorelines and the shape that nature has crafted for that piece. Occasionally when orders start to build up it does cross my mind that it would have been easier to have picked a craft where the parts I needed were a little easier and more reliable to get, but overall it is the thrill of never knowing what you are going to find next that I love most.
I imagine your day starts with beachcombing? Is this correct and if so does it ever become a chore? Our life is ruled by the tide and wind direction! Our beachcombing is very much a family affair and shared passion. Our kids and our parents are also active beachcombers. It can get a little competitive at times down at the beach with everyone trying to find the rarest piece! My parents spend a lot of time looking for glass interstate and even overseas as well. We also have friends who keep an eye out for us. Their support has been fabulous. It is such a lovely feeling when a child from our children’s school or sporting team rushes up and excitedly hands over a little bag of sea glass that they have found! It is also a very special time to be at the beach on your own sometimes; on a personal level I find it incredibly relaxing to wander the tide lines. Often I have to remember to look up though and take in the beauty of the sea; my head is usually so far in the sand that I have been known to miss a whale or dolphin close to shore… In regards to our sea glass from overseas, we have some that we have found ourselves and some we buy from collectors. We always provide a story card with each gift that explains where the sea glass originally came from – whether our shores or those abroad.
What have been some of your more unusual beachcombing finds? The find I secretly hope for each time I head down to the beach is a glass stopper. In the 1800s apothecary bottles that held expensive medicines, elixirs and poisons were topped with matching glass stoppers. While I don’t actually make anything out of them, from a collector’s point of view they are a rare and prized find.
Is this a full time occupation for you? It definitely is heading that way. Just from a beachcombing perspective it takes a long time to find the glass. If I am looking for a particular colour or shape of glass sometimes it can take no time at all or I have to wait patiently for months, especially to find two pieces slightly similar to make earrings! Thankfully I have a studio at home so grading the glass, making the design and marketing can all happen around the family, with quite a few late nights thrown in!
Who buys your products and why? Our jewellery, home décor, photography and art sea glass designs are influenced by the incredible marine life and things we love most about life on the coast. We donate part of sales from our marine life collection to the Dolphin Research Institute as we believe strongly in the work of the Institute to protect the marine life of the Bay. We do find a lot of people who buy our sea glass have the same strong connection to the ocean and marine life. Others are fascinated with the history behind the glass, are lovers of handmade or tourists who are looking for a keepsake of their time on the Peninsula. We find quite a few local people moving out of the area want to take a piece of sea glass with them to keep their connection to the area or send a little piece of the Bay home to family and friends overseas.
Do you know of other craftspeople in Australia who work with sea glass? There are not many of us at this stage. I know of a few local jewellery artists who use sea glass, but not as their main medium. I have also been in contact with a few artists interstate. Sea glass artists are incredibly well networked overseas and there are many associations bringing artists together. I would love to see this happen in Australia, maybe one day we could have our own festival celebrating our unique Aussie finds!
Sea Glass Info Shards: If you’d like to see more of Amanda and Paul’s work, click on www.morningtonseaglass.com.au To read about the North American Sea Glass Association and see pictures of their award winners and festival information, click on www.seaglassassociation.org/index.html
Sea Glass by Anita Shreve is a historical fiction novel set in New Hampshire, a good read.