Collecting sea glass goes from a hobby to a full-time business at West Coast Sea Glass
written by Lauren Kramer
There’s something deliciously peaceful about wandering along a lonely beach, feeling the wind in your hair and the sand beneath your feet. One Olympic Peninsula entrepreneur took her love of beach wandering and turned it into a successful career. Mary Beth Beuke, 55, had been searching the sand for sea glass since the age of 6, collecting fragments of glass whose sharp edges had been caressed and softened by water and time. “I just love being by the shore and walking, so my sea glass collection naturally fell into place,” she said. Another great love was crafting and making jewelry. One day she included a piece of sea glass in her jewelry and the result caught many admiring glances. Orders from her friends for more pieces of jewelry came flooding in, and before she knew it, Beuke was at the helm of West Coast Sea Glass, now a successful company selling sea glass jewelry online and in galleries all over the United States, Canada, Britain, the Bahamas and Australia.
After two decades of research, Beuke is an expert in identifying the glass in her collection. “History is really important in a sea glass collection, and that’s defined by color,” she said. “Glass was manufactured in many different colors 100 years ago than it is today, and back then the most common bottle colors in the U.S. were clear, brown and forest or emerald green. I consider these rarer colors to be of more value, and in my jewelry I only use the best pieces.” There’s lots of detective work in sea-glass collecting and Beuke loves the thrill of finding something rare and identifying where it came from. One time she found a piece of glass belonging to an early-1900s walking cane. “For me, this becomes a process of glass archaeology and historical investigating,” she said. “It’s not just a broken piece of a 1970s bottle.” Beuke has an office in the Olympic Peninsula and a studio in Tacoma. Together with Teresa Crecelius and Lindsay Furber—a longtime friend with whom she co-founded West Coast Sea Glass—she makes rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, cufflinks and a few pieces of home décor.
Each piece of jewelry created by the three women is accompanied by a card indicating when and where the sea glass was found, and any information about its historical relevance. Her customers love knowing pertinent information about their sea glass jewelry, and she often fields requests for a piece of jewelry made with sea glass from a particular beach or coastline. Sometimes customers will find sea glass on a beach during a vacation and mail it to her, requesting she use it in a piece of unique jewelry as a memento of their trip. Over the course of her life, Beuke has amassed one of the world’s largest and rarest collections of sea glass fragments. She displays them during the lectures she delivers at museums and libraries, educating people about their origins. She keeps her jewelry business collection separate from her personal collection. These days, however, the more historical pieces of sea glass are becoming increasingly hard to find. “It’s been four years since I found anything of historical significance in the U.S.,” she said with a tinge of regret in her voice.
“The really rare pieces are either buried at sea or they’ve been found, and some of the best places on the planet that used to have rare sea glass forty years ago just don’t have it anymore.” In terms of sea glass jewelry, that means making twelve pairs of blue earrings, requiring twenty-four pieces of sea glass, can be next to impossible. “We have to rely on the pieces we have here, rather than foraging for new pieces,” she explained. “And some colors we simply can no longer provide, like aqua blue, which is much rarer than a green piece of sea glass.” On a hot day in July, Beuke headed to her silver studio to complete a five-piece cobalt blue bracelet made of sea glass from old medicine bottles. A silversmith and photographer by trade, she has effortlessly merged her talents, creating stunning pieces of art in both her jewelry and photography. Home is a twenty-second walk from the beach, so she gets to indulge her love of beach wandering almost daily. “It’s been such a joy connecting with people over sea glass,” she said. “I truly have the best job in the world.”
Learn more about West Coast Sea Glass