Abaco Life Magazine

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Sea Glass Reveals Muted Tales in Red, Green, Blue, White …..

By Jim Kerr

With a beachcomber’s sharp eye, Kim Sands walks slowly and methodically along Abaco’s deserted beaches, her attention finely tuned to the tide lines and pockets of tide pools at water’s edge. She searches not for shells, but for glass.
Tossed and tumbled by the relentless sea, some bright fragments glitter in the sun, while others hide camouflaged in brownish rocks and craggy edges of limestone. The shards are usually small and smooth, having been pounded and buffed, sometimes for years, by the sea. The surface of the glass is opaque and milky, but the colours are distinct, with telltale signs of origin ranging from a Milk of Magnesia bottle discarded 50 years ago, to an empty liquor bottle thrown off a cruise ship three weeks ago.Sea Glass in Abaco Bahamas
It may be trash those who discard it, but it’s treasure to those who find it. And while collecting it isn’t nearly as popular as shell hunting, many Abaconians and dedicated visitors consider sea glass combing a combination of archeology and gem mining. “Sea glass collectors look for rare colours and a connection to people and history,” says Kim, who owns the popular Java coffee shop in Marsh Harbour. “Among the best things you could find would be something like pieces from a Black Case gin bottle from the 1800s, which would be thick and deep olive green, or anything that’s red. I’ve only found three pieces of red sea glass in 10 years of collecting.”
That’s because few bottles were made from red glass, and most red sea glass comes from old lanterns and boat lights. Orange, turquoise, yellow, black and teal are also very rare. The most commonly found sea glass is white, Kelly green and brown, the colour - or lack thereof - of most bottles today. Many are tossed off ships passing in the night off Abaco’s shores, or washed up in storms from farther away. They are battered and broken by waves on the rocks, and the fragments are worn smooth and rounded by continuous tidal action. “The best places to find it,” says Kim, “are at the high water line during changing tides, especially following rough weather. Heavy pieces are thrown to the top of the high tide line, while smaller ones get caught in rocky pools at low tide.”
Some pieces of worn glass are fused together by fire. This occurs when bottles join other refuse and debris in trash dump fires. Kim calls this “campfire glass,” because much of it is the result of people, going back to loyalist days, burning garbage on Abaco beaches The broken bottle glass bubbles and has traces of charcoal.
Collectors put the glass in bowls, baskets, jars and glasstop coffee tables. Like Kim, they make jewelry and mobiles out of it. Bottle necks and bottoms are particularly good for mobiles and small pieces can be fashioned into jewelry including bracelets, necklaces and earrings. While some artists use mechanical “tumblers” to soften glass edges and create the sea frosting effect, purists like Kim rely on serendipity and experience in finding the real thing. Artist Blaine Sweeting of Little Harbour gives nature a hand.
He makes three dimensional lamp shades from sea glass, layering glass on top of glass, but instead of tumbling the glass, he smashes bottles he finds, places the fragments in a net bag and secures it in a hidden spot where wave action will eventually result in the effect he wants. “It takes a long time to find the glass you need, because naturally
everyone wants a lot of cobalt blue,” he explains.
Aside from its aesthetic value as a “gem,” sea glass is intriquing because of its past association with people. Blue bottles which once held Milk of Magnesia and Bromo Seltzer have long been displaced by plastic containers. Other bottled remedies, such as Scotts Emulsion Codliver Oil with Lime and Soda, have ceased to exist. Sometimes marbles, which were once inside bottles as stoppers, are found. Other beach glass found in south Abaco comes from long-closed industrial sites like Owens Illinois and Wilson City. Agricultural areas in both south and north Abaco are also good places to look.
“You can find it almost anywhere,” says Kim, who does not reveal her own favorite locales, “but the best places would be Bahama Palm Shores, down around Hole in the Wall, Sandy Point and up in north Abaco north of Treasure Cay.”
Kim searches the Internet for information on sea glass and ideas on how to make things from it. Some people simply keep in it glass jars by a sunny window, or in fish tanks, while others go a more extravagant route. There are books on the subject, such as Pure Sea Glass by Richard LaMotte, and Sea Glass Chronicles by Carole Lambert, as well as many websites, including www.bytheseajewelry.com, www.pureseaglass.com and www.bythebaytreasures.com. Most are related to collecting sea glass, or beach glass as it is sometimes called, in New England. But Abaco’s many miles of Atlantic shoreline and outer cay beaches may be superior as reservoirs of this treasure.
“It’s always a secret as to your favorite spot,” says Kim, whose sea glass mobiles spin and glitter in the sun from their hooks at Java. But if you approach her at the right moment, she might drop a few tips.

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©  Jim Kerr, Abaco Life Magazine
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