The Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival

By Tracey F. Johns

Unpolished seaglass is a favorite for beachcombers to save in a jar or scatter on a tabletop.

Photo by Stephen Walker

Tides and time can weather the shiniest of souls, softening the light and dulling any sharp edges a person holds. Out of that weathering and wear comes a different light, reclaimed and refracted with a certain beauty and grace.

The same is true with much of the discarded glass in our oceans and waterways. Tousled and tumbled until the glass loses its sharp edges and shine, sea glass washes up along shorelines as frosted pieces of weathered wonder. Each piece differs in color and size, and uniquely gathers the light as if shining from within, reminding us of days spent waterside.

Sea glass is also the main attraction in St. Michaels, where the annual Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival gathers thousands of coastal art lovers at the waterfront Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum over two days each April.

Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival founder Kim Hannon started the festival nine years ago, soon after opening her coastal-inspired boutique, Ophiuroidea. She wanted a place to showcase the local sea glass artisans who came to meet and do business with her. She says the event started with five artisans in a smaller location before moving to CBMM last year. Now, the event has grown to fill the maritime museum’s expansive waterfront campus, displaying the works of coastal and sea glass artisans, plus live music on two stages, regional food, educational lectures, boat rides, and more.

“It’s become the largest, annual ocean arts festival in the nation,” she says.

Hannon also serves as president of the North American Sea Glass Association, an organization with a mission that goes beyond sea glass education to protecting and restoring waterways and coastlines around the world.

“Part of our mission is to help clean the shorelines,” said Hannon. “So it comes as no surprise that many sea glass collectors and beachcombers will also take a trash bag along with them to pick-up debris. Having this outlet of upcycled art helps to bring awareness to shoreline protection, while encouraging cleaning up the beaches and making beautiful works of art to cherish and enjoy.”

Hannon says the festival feels like a family reunion each year, bringing together artists who take sea glass and other coastal finds and turn them into treasured jewelry, home décor, useable art, and more.

“I’ve met so many wonderful sea glass sisters and brothers throughout the years,” said Hannon. “And every year it is a great way to celebrate a common love of the beach and sea glass with so many people. Plus, with ticket sales through the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, it’s also a great fundraising and membership drive opportunity for them.”

Hannon says last year was a record-breaking event, with more than 9,000 people attending and 75 artisans participating in the event. This year, the April 4-5 festival will feature more than 90 artisans — many from the local Delmarva area, while other artisans will be travelling from as far away as Hawaii — who will exhibit and sell their unique creations.

A selection of sea glass creations represents the creative jewelry and home decor offered by vendors at the Sea Glass Festival on April 4-5 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

Photos by Arden Haley

“The Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival is fun for the whole family, couples or great for a girlfriend’s weekend get together,” said Hannon. “Add in the museum’s working shipyard, exhibits and historic structures, and we have something for everyone of every age to enjoy.”

The festival is now in its 9th year and includes two days of live music on two stages from local musicians John Belser, Jayme Dingler, Dave Hawkins, Emma Myers, and Chris Sacks. Headlining on Saturday will be Annapolis-based musicians Pressing Strings, performing from the historic Tolchester Beach Bandstand on the Miles River at CBMM.

“This year, I’m also excited that we have more educational lectures from top experts in their fields, including Chesapeake Bay photographer Jay Fleming, author Deacon Ritterbush, also known as Dr. Beachcomb, and author Mary McCarthy with The Beachcombing Center,” commented Hannon.

The Beachcombing Center originally was founded as The Sea Glass Center and is dedicated to educating about worldwide shoreline finds and increasing awareness about eroding coastlines and marine debris. The nonprofit is currently seeking donations to find a permanent space on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to exhibit and preserve a collection of beachcombed items from around the globe. On the eve of this year’s Festival, The Beachcombing Center is hosting a private preview party to launch a new, temporary exhibit space at Knapp’s Narrows Marina Inn on Tilghman Island.

“Combing the shoreline at low tide, particularly after a storm, brings treasures to beach goers and water lovers throughout the world,” said Hannon, who also serves on The Beachcombing Center’s Board of Directors. “We want to create a place to bring together the most treasured finds, while celebrating how beachcombing connects us.”

The people of the Eastern Shore and beyond now have new ways to celebrate the beauty and history of sea glass through the new Beachcombing Center and the annual Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival. Each provides examples of the beauty in reclaiming someone’s trash as another’s treasure, and how refraction of light, especially from an old, worn piece of sea glass, can warm the soul.

**Note: The Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival has been postponed until further notice due to Covid-19 **

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