The Mystical World of Sea Glass

What secrets will your local beach reveal?

Sea glass, also known as beach glass, drift glass, mermaid’s tears, and sea pearls, is glass which has been tossed and turned by the ocean waves, wearing off sharp edges, making unique shapes, and creating a frosted appearance. Broken trash which has become eagerly sought-after gems for collectors, artists, and beach walkers.
Our North Shore, a coastline abundant with beaches, is also a worthy source of sea glass. While most collectors are not willing to share their favourite spot, information makes its way to social media and into conversations. Some hot spots include Northport, Pugwash, Cape John, and Chance Harbour.
Any beach has potential for treasures but knowing the history of an area can increase your odds of picking the right location. Was there once a dump nearby that could be a source of glass? Were there ever rum runners in the area who may have dropped their cargo? Did manufacturing companies who made electrical insulators or used glass containers for their product operate nearby? Were ships sailing the waters carrying stoneware or passengers with perfume bottles?
Sea glass comes in many colours, some easier to find than others. The most common are white, once clear glass, green, and brown. Rarer are blues and yellows and the hardest to find are red and orange. Shades can vary depending on the age of the glass or how long it’s been tossed or “cooked” by the sea. Minerals added during the manufacturing process such as manganese in clear glass make it appear lavender when exposed to light.
Knowing a lucky spot for “glassin’” does not always mean success. Like the changing of the beach with each tide, the occurrence of glass can vary. As the tide ebbs and flows, these gems can be dragged back out to sea or hidden deep under the sand. Some collectors, called “diggers,” are willing to sit and search for glass buried below the surface.

Artist: Sharon Nowlan. Pictou

Stories from the Seaside

Many who comb the beach can recount a tale of finding a favourite treasure. A rare colour, their first piece named for a specific shape such as a marble, jellybean, egg, heart, or square, or a section of pottery with a meaningful inscription. Wendy Brown, a sea glass artist from Amherst, found a small section of an old Hemingray glass insulator with the letters “RAY” still visible. The name of her late father. A piece she turned into a pendant to wear in his memory. Sharon Nowlan of Pictou, another creator who makes exquisite art from sea glass and other tiny objects discovered on the beach does a little happy dance every time she finds a heart, whether glass or pebble. And a tiny “L” was discovered on a day another collector was thinking of her grandmother, Lillian, and how she favoured flat smooth beach stones over glass.
Imaginative collectors might contemplate stories for their finds, knowing the sea gives up the glass but the tale of its travels remains a secret, adding to the allure. Was it once a bottle of wine shared by a happy couple, prohibited bounty thrown overboard by bootleggers about to be discovered by the law, a discarded broken dish, or a lost toy of a careless child?
Jewellery makers, artists, and avid collectors use their creativity to come up with new ways to share their discoveries with others or to display them in their home. Creations which become reminders that what once was broken can be mended and turned into something new to enjoy.

Artist: Sharon Nowlan. Pictou

Seeking sea glass – a journey of healing

Sea glass, like true healing, can be hard to find. If easy, everyone would have it, and that isn’t the case.
You walk, and walk, and walk, thousands of steps. Sometimes you pass over the same spot again, and again, only to discover it was there, right before your eyes all along but just below the surface.
You can only find sea glass if you’re focused in the present. You cannot look behind you, or too far ahead because you’ll miss it. You must be willing to bend, even get down on your knees sometimes.
It requires acceptance, sometimes you don’t find any at all. You must allow it to show up and realize it comes from a source much bigger than yourself. Be grateful for each piece and never give up the search.

Artist: Sharon Nowlan. Pictou

Crafty creations

Wendy Brown, owner of Treasures From The Tides, collects beach glass, pebbles, and driftwood from all over Nova Scotia. She then returns to her home in Amherst and creates whimsical pictures she sells at local markets. “It started when I made a couple as gifts,” says Wendy. “People liked them, and I started getting requests.”
Wendy enhances her glass by adding line drawings and bits of colour. A little acrylic paint for polka dots or a brush of pink on the back of a white piece of sea glass gives the illusion of a glorious find. Seemingly simple designs with heartfelt messages crafted together to make framed art suitable for everyone.
Pebble Art by Sharon Nowlan of Pictou began over twenty years ago. “I had just taken over my parent’s art and frame shop on Water Street,” says Nowlan. “My three-year-old son and I had been to the beach and it was super windy and wavy, and he was nervous of the water. So, he spent his time gathering small stones. He’d carry them to me and put them in my jean jacket pocket. The next day, I wore my jacket to my studio and ended up with the stones on my work desk. They were so pretty, I started playing around with them to see what I could make.”
Over the years she has found sea glass harder to find and has expanded her sources. “Thankfully sea glass has found a way to find me. I’ll come home to a baggie of finds on my studio doorstep. I have even received large collections in the mail. Some of the more particular colours I have purchased from places all over the world.” Nowlan creates birds, flowers, sailboats, and people, displaying love and emotion with carefully placed beach treasures.