Martha's Vineyard divers find glass sculpture treasure
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Two years ago, Ian Whitt, a glass artist, was working at Martha's Vineyard Glassworks in West Tisbury when he created a sculpture of a wave. It was not quite perfect. Rather than destroy the glass, he took it to Big Bridge on State Beach and tossed it into the currents of the channel that connects Sengekontacket Pond with Nantucket Sound.
A scuba-diving enthusiast, he knew people made dives there and thought it would be fun for someone to find a modern-day buried treasure. Time passed, he moved to San Francisco, California, and he forgot about his whimsical idea until he received an email from a father and son pair of divers.
Mr. Whitt was surprised and delighted to learn that Stephen Worrell of Tisbury and his 14-year-old son Dylan had recovered the sculpture while on a dive off State Beach and tracked Mr. Whitt down through the Glassworks studio.
The C-shaped glass sculpture appears to be a cresting wave about to curl over. Translucent clear glass streaked with shades of blue and aqua forms the base of the wave, and white, beige, and metallic gold highlights give the crest the appearance of real foam.
It looked much different when the Worrells found it. After a picnic on State Beach on July 14 that included Dylan's 10-year-old brother, Mr. Worrell and Dylan went for a dive off Big Bridge about 4 pm.
Mr. Worrell, who recently retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 22 years, got certified in scuba diving about two years ago while working at the Coast Guard Academy. Dylan got certified over the winter, so that the two of them could enjoy the hobby together this summer. Their dive that day was Dylan's second since being certified.
Dylan, a busboy at the Black Dog Tavern, also operates his own business, "Waterline Boat Bottom Cleaning," and attends East Lyme High School in Connecticut.
"And we were just looking for whatever; we found a couple of fishing lures and a pager at first, and then we came upon what looked like a tire buried in the sand next to one of the bridge's pillars," Mr. Worrell said.
At first, Dylan said, they decided not to pick it up, but then curiosity won out and they decided to go back and get it.
Mr. Worrell said when he realized the object was glass, he thought perhaps it was formed when lightning struck the bridge, traveled down the metal pillar, and fused the sand at its base. The sculpture was covered in algae, crustaceans, and sand.
"We brought it home and pressure-washed it, and we noticed a grinding mark on the top," he said. "So this led us to realize it wasn't naturally made, it was made by somebody."
From whence it came
Mr. Worrell's mother, Mary Worrell, and Dylan came up with the idea to take the sculpture to Martha's Vineyard Glassworks and see if someone there might be able to help them track down its origin. The staff immediately recognized the piece. Mr. Worrell emailed the artist with the good news that his sculpture had resurfaced. Mr. Whitt called Mr. Worrell two days later and not only told him about the sculpture's history, but also informed him it was finders, keepers.
"He's going to give me some documentation saying it's his work," Mr. Worrell said.
The cleaned up sculpture bears no evidence of its tumble from the bridge and its travels in the sea.
"I had actually forgotten all about it, to tell you the truth, and then he contacted me on my website, and I was like, no way, that is funny," Mr. Whitt told The Times in a phone conversation last week.
He said the wave sculpture was one of his signature pieces and also one of the high-end items sold at Glassworks during his two years there.
Why toss it?
"With my kind of work, there comes a certain quality standard I have to meet for a client," Mr. Whitt explained about his decision to toss his work. "That one was just a little bit not up to par, and so I was trying to think of something to do with it. And rather than throw it in the garbage, I decided to pitch it off the bridge at State Beach, hoping that a future for it like this would arrive."
If up to his standards, Mr. Whitt said the sculpture would have sold for around $1,300. Asked why he didn't sell it as a second, Mr. Whitt said, "I could if I wanted to, but at the moment I was so busy, and I thought the idea was so cool."
The sculpture still has a round protrusion about the size of a fifty-cent piece visible on top, where the glass-blowing pipe was attached. Mr. Whitt said he flattened and smoothed it, but didn't take the time to completely grind it down and polish it since he wasn't going to sell the piece.
"I made hundreds of those, and usually they don't end up in the bottom of the ocean," he added with a laugh.
Mr. Whitt said he was surprised to hear where the Worrells found his sculpture, which weighs about 15 to 20 pounds. Although he threw it as far as he could away from the bridge, over time the currents in the channel between Sengekontacket Pond and the ocean had carried it back.
The 29-year-old artist said he loved living on Martha's Vineyard, but moved to San Francisco to escape the winters. He currently freelances as a production glass blower and sells pieces he makes through his website, www.ianwhittglass.com, and in galleries that include Martha's Vineyard Glassworks.
Mr. Worrell said the wave sculpture he and Dylan found is currently at his mother's home. However, he plans to take it with him when he relocates next month to Wilmington, N.C., to start a second career as a restaurateur with his brother Ray.
Dylan said finding the sculpture has inspired him to keep looking for other treasures. At the top of the list is a Rolex watch he heard was lost in Vineyard Haven Harbor about five years ago.