Searching For Sea Glass
Sea Glass Hunters Travel For Hours, Withhold The Whereabouts Of Their Quests And (If They Must) Fend Off Wild Dogs, In Pursuit Of The Smooth, Frosted Treasures That Were Once Someone’s Trash
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Kara Swensen shows off the first Virginia Beach sea glass she has ever found after
going on a hunt on the North End.
Kara Swensen has lived at the oceanfront for six years and never found a piece of sea glass. She’s found some along the New Jersey coast and Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay but none at the beach she calls home.
“I feel like it’s more like a quest,” says Swensen, who grew up in Florida and graduated from Arizona State University. “I’ll be so giddy when I find it.”
Coastal Virginia Magazine had no choice but to pay forward LaMotte’s goodwill and take Swensen on a hunt for local glass.
On a sunny June morning, Swensen grabs a bag before she heads on a search, not far from her home. The blond-haired aviation enthusiast is optimistic that she’ll need something to put all the sea glass in.
This isn’t an ideal morning for a hunt, though. It’s neither low tide nor has a storm just passed through. And the army of biting flies that make it their mission in life to ruin walks for North Enders seem to not want this hunt to happen.
Swensen finds a few pieces with some help, but it’s not until she’s on her way back, when the tide has dropped more, that she discovers her first piece on her own. And, judging by her yelp, that makes all the difference.
Walking along the low tide line and scanning the sand, Swensen sees the reflection of glass at her feet. “Oh, look!” she blurts out, bending to pick it up. “I found it! This is like the piece that I found. Fun!”
The glass is large and clear, but it needs more time in the water, more time to frost.
It’s not until a few minutes later that she finds the piece, her first quality piece of glass. A wave recedes from the sand, exposing the glass that would become the piece of the day.
“Ooh, look at that one,” she says.
She holds it between her fingers and admires it. It’s also a clear piece, but this one is nicely frosted, about two inches long and appears to be the bottom of a bottle.
“It’s so big, it’s perfect,” Swensen says.
Sea glass jeweler Valerie Duus-Jamieson holds a piece of her glass up to the light at
her office near Mount Trashmore Park.
Valerie Duus-Jamieson, 64, hasn’t harvested local beaches for glass, either.
She makes and sells sea glass jewelry in Virginia Beach, but she and her husband get their glass from the Eastern Shore. And they say it’s worth paying the $18 roundtrip toll. She overheard a customer talking about the spot more than a year ago and now relies on it to supply all her sea glass for jewelry.
She, too, doesn’t want to divulge the location. Her husband, Tommy, jokingly offers to take this correspondent there blindfolded.
Duus-Jamieson has been making sea glass jewelry for three years. She started out using fake sea glass but switched over to the real stuff when she learned of the location that she now holds so dear.
“Gold mine,” she says.
Duus-Jamieson sells her glass online and at a half-dozen arts festivals per year. Her husband drills holes through the glass—not an easy task to master—and she turns it into necklaces and earrings and such.
She said the couple’s home near Mount Trashmore is so covered in sea glass that she doesn’t allow visitors there.
“I used to play ping pong,” Tommy Jamieson says. “All of a sudden, the next thing I know, it’s a work table.”
On an evening in mid-May, Duus-Jamieson is at her office, preparing for two upcoming festivals, first the Pungo Wine Festival, then the Steel Pier Classic and Surf Art Expo. She packs two large black bags with plastic bins filled with sea glass jewelry. She doesn’t have to work hard to get people to buy her jewelry; sea glass sells itself.
“People are fascinated when you have real sea glass,” she tells.
They’re even more thrilled when someone like LaMotte, the sea glass author from Portsmouth, can identify the pieces’ age and origin.
On his Eastern Shore hunt, when LaMotte finds a light green piece, he notes that it came from a “hobble-skirt” Coke bottle, likely from the 1940s or 1950s.
Then this correspondent discovers a large chunk of curved white ceramic, probably three-quarters of an inch thick, and shows it to LaMotte.
He identifies that too. “It’s probably from a toilet bowl.”
LaMotte doesn’t find any red or orange glass—the rarest colors—but he does find some beautiful pastel green and blue pieces. It’s enough to make his two-hour drive to the Eastern Shore worth it.
He doesn’t hunt for sea glass as much as he used to; he and his wife, Nancy, stockpiled 50,000 pieces for her sea glass jewelry business.
But she’s out of town at a festival this weekend. And there’s little LaMotte would rather be doing than scouring the sand for the ocean’s artwork that was once someone’s trash.
Richard LaMotte has written two books about sea glass, Pure Sea Glass and The Lure of Sea Glass. Readers can order them through his website: SeaGlassPublishing.com.
Valerie Duus-Jamieson's sea glass jewelry can be purchased through her Facebook page: Facebook.com/shopbeachykeen.