Beach glass and pebbles tossed ashore by Lake Michigan are the raw material of jewelry fashioned by these Port Washington beachcombers
Almost every morning and evening, Jackie Walters walks South Beach in Port Washington looking for beach glass, interesting pebbles and ceramic pieces that have been washed and smoothed over the years by sand and waves.
Each piece of beach glass — which is not as prevalent along Lake Michigan beaches as it used to be since plastic bottles replaced glass ones — is a find, Walters said, but when she spots a red, dark blue, yellow or pink piece she knows she has a treasure.
Walters, her sister-in-law Kit Walters and friend Priscilla Wicks, all of Port Washington, and sometimes their children, have been combing Port beaches together for years bringing home their treasures.
That has resulted in a lot of beach glass and pebbles, so they decided to make jewelry and sell the items at the outdoor Port Washington Farmers Market.
At their first market on June 8, Wicks made $70, selling mostly jewelry made of small pebbles, and Walters’ 12-year-old daughter Teagan made $80 on her beach-glass jewelry.
“People either gravitated to the stones or to the beach glass,” said Wicks, who feels a connection to the stones and pebbles she finds.
Before a road and parking lot were built at South Beach, Walters said, she or her husband used to anchor their sailboat offshore and row their dinghy to the beach, where they would spend the afternoon.
Wicks, an art teacher at University School in River Hills, said walking the beach every day after school was a way to wind down and her exercise routine.
“Finding beach glass was my reward for exercising,” she said.
“I have to walk to Lion’s Den to get glass because Jackie gets here first. Now that I’m out of school, I can go earlier, but Jackie will probably still beat me.”
Now that their daughters are interested in making jewelry, there is often a race to see who gets to a piece of beach glass first, especially if it’s an unusual color.
“Sometimes, there will be three of us walking in a line and the first one to shout, ‘I’ve got it,’ gets it or we’ll put our foot on it so nobody else sees it,” Walters said.
Their daughters can run faster, so they have to be sneaky, she said.
The beachcombers keep their beach glass separated by colors and sizes.
Wicks does the same with her pebbles and stones. She often stacks different size pebbles on top of each other totem-style, starting with the largest one on the bottom.
She makes necklaces and earrings with totems as well as using single pebbles or beach glass and pebbles together.
Finding two pieces of beach glass or pebbles that are similar in size and color for earrings is a challenge, the jewelry makers said.
Larger pieces are often made into pendants or charms for bracelets or wine glasses.
Each piece of jewelry is an original and cannot be duplicated, Wicks noted.
The beach glass and pebbles are not altered except to drill a small hole or two to thread the fine wire that is used to turn them into jewelry that can be worn.
The women use a Dremel rotary tool with a fine diamond wheel point bit to make the holes. The drilling is done under water. The diamond bit has to be replaced after piercing about a dozen pebbles or beach glass.
Once the holes are drilled, the beach artists may embellish the pieces by adding crystals, metal spacers, beads, feathers and other found or purchased items.
When the women started beachcombing, it was usually without their children — a time to enjoy each other’s company and the beach.
Having their daughters interested in collecting beach glass and other items to make and sell jewelry is fun, Walters said.
The group recently spent a day in Kenosha to explore the beach there and found some nice beach glass.
Each woman has her own business name.
Wicks uses Sand and Sea Jewelry, Jackie Walters chose Great Lakes Jewelry and Kit Walters picked Wind and Wave Creations. The girls are still deciding what they want to call their jewelry lines.
Beach glass, pebbles and other items were made into earrings, necklaces and wine-glass charms by beachcombers (from left) Teagan Walters, Maisie Wicks, Jackie Walters and Priscilla Wicks. Photo by Sam Arendt