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Trash to high class: Cayucos Sea Glass Festival celebrates six years 

In any given beach town, you’re bound to spot a few beachcombers mining the sand for abalone, sand dollars, jade, seashells, arrowheads, or frosty little gems called sea glass. 

What is sea glass? Remember that hot day last summer when you drank some ice cold Coronas on the beach and forgot to take your glass bottles with you as you left? Well shame on you for littering, but don’t go beating yourself up just yet. It would seem that the ocean can have its way with such bottles and shape them into something quite unique. 

click to enlarge UNDER THE SEA:  The Cayucos Sea Glass Festival will feature a booth where kids (or you!) can get a picture taken with live mermaids. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CAYUCOS SEA GLASS FESTIVAL
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF CAYUCOS SEA GLASS FESTIVAL
  • UNDER THE SEA: The Cayucos Sea Glass Festival will feature a booth where kids (or you!) can get a picture taken with live mermaids.

“The ocean takes a sharp-edged piece of glass and turns it into a rounded and frosted jewel,” Donna Halliday, otherwise known as the sea glass queen of Cayucos, said. 

Glass either dumped or swept into the ocean is tumbled through waves and sand to form a smooth gem. Halliday, a local sea glass artist, lives in Cayucos at the Shoreline Inn. She makes sea glass mosaics for picture frames and prints notecards as well. You can also make jewelry, wind chimes, nightlights, and more. If it can be done, sea glass artists will do it.

If you walked along Cayucos beach, rain or shine, you’ll likely bump into a few ladies who are avid collectors of this ocean-recycled treasure. Six years ago, nine women would stumble upon each other regularly, perhaps even to reach for the same piece of glass. Those women, who call themselves the “sea glass sistahs,” came together to form what we now know as The Sea Glass Festival in Cayucos. 

It was inevitable that they would put their heads together to channel their love of sea glass into a success. 

“Kiki [Kornreich] suggested that we start our own sea glass festival,” Laila Kollmann, sea glass collector and owner of the Shoreline Inn, said. “And from there we began planning.” Soon after, Kollmann and Kornreich went to Fort Bragg to Glass Beach to begin their research in preparation for the festival.

“It’s amazing that a little thing like sea glass has brought us all together,” Kollman said. 

These strong, business-oriented women have become a tight-knit support group for each other.

“We are women of all ages and backgrounds,” Maureen Carlson, one of the founders, said. “Each one individually talented with something that makes a meaningful contribution toward our goals.” 

click to enlarge COLORFUL GEMS:  From trash to treasure, sea glass comes in all shapes and colors. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RELISH STUDIO AND GALLERY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF RELISH STUDIO AND GALLERY
  • COLORFUL GEMS: From trash to treasure, sea glass comes in all shapes and colors.

The first year of the festival took place on a Saturday in March 2011 in the Cayucos Veterans’ Hall. While they were only expecting a few hundred to show up, a few thousand did. They had to expand the festival into two days. 

The second weekend in March will mark the sixth annual Sea Glass Festival, with 38 vendors plus food and alcohol from Cayucos. Among the many booths at the festival will be Richard LaMotte, author of Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems. LaMotte will be available to answer burning questions about sea glass and to sign his books. 

Mermaids were integrated into the festival during its the second year and are one of the main attractions. 

“Sea glass is also known as mermaid tears,” Amanda Fritzsche, owner of Schooners and the sea glass festival’s designated mermaid, said. “Every time someone dies at sea a mermaid cries a bead of sea glass.”

Fritzsche, another one of the founders, now attends the festival in full mermaid regalia—fins and all. Last year, Cayucos welcomed a month long “Mermaids in March” as a precursor to the Sea Glass Festival. Each business displays a unique piece of mermaid art. 

- SEE GLASS:  The annual Cayucos Sea Glass Festival takes place March 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 per day. For more information, go to cayucosseaglass.com. -
  • SEE GLASS: The annual Cayucos Sea Glass Festival takes place March 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $5 per day. For more information, go to cayucosseaglass.com.

Sea glass has become so popular in the last decade that some have criticized the festival, claiming that there won’t be any more sea glass left to find. According to Kollmann there have been rumors of avid “glassers” who actually dump glass or craft beads into the ocean to create more sea glass. Some have even tried to create a phony type of sea glass, which can easily be verified with a magnifying glass. 

“It can take up to 10 years in the ocean for sea glass to really be beautiful,” Halliday said.

Sea glass comes in all shapes and colors. Red glass is the rarest, thicker glass is the oldest, and certain colors come from distinct places in the world making many pieces valuable and sought after. 

“You learn a lot of history from collecting sea glass because you’re going to try and find where it came from,” Kollmann said. “Maybe it came from an insulator cap, a bottle stopper, an old mayonnaise jar, or a Coke bottle.”

New Times Intern Kat Schuster is currently scouring the beach for her own treasures. Send comments to Arts Editor Ryah Cooley at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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