The time-honored tradition of combing for beach glass on Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t always yield a treasure. And if you’re lucky enough to find it, then what?
Last year, artist and Island native Heather Smith was inspired to make unique, everyday scenes from her beach glass finds. On a trip home from Hyannis, Heather noticed an American flag collage made from sea glass; it reminded her of her flag-loving best friend. When she saw the $175 price tag, she thought, “I can make this myself.”
Heather started crafting several pieces as holiday gifts, and now has an Ag Fair ribbon under her belt, as well as work available at Driftwood Jewelry and Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank in Oak Bluffs, Shear Inspiration, and the Edgartown National Bank in Edgartown.
On a table at home, she assembles flat stones and shells, along with sea glass, and fiddles with them until she gets the perfect picture. “Sometimes I have as many as 15 different scenes going on the table at once,” she told The Times. Those scenes include everything from a golfer on the green putting the ball to a couple beside a campfire, another in a hot air balloon, and a bride and groom on their wedding day. The campfire scene, which is hanging at Driftwood, is one of Heather’s favorites, along with a swan made out of three large pieces of conch shell with white sea glass baby swans. That one is still on her table at home. “I know it’s going to be very difficult to glue the ‘beach grass,’ she says. The golfer came out of a request for a Father’s Day gift from someone who had bought another of her pieces, and she was immediately asked by someone else to make one for her boyfriend.
Heather has created several custom-order pieces, with specific direction from her customers, along with personal ones she’s designed. She’s currently working on a scene for a woman who found her on Facebook and wanted something to remember the Vineyard by, as she prepared to sell her Island home after many years. “She had a ton of glass that she collected. I asked what she had seen of mine that she liked, and she said, ‘All of it, you decide what to make. I trust you.’ ”
“Sometimes I just ‘see’ something and put it together fairly quickly. Other times it’s on my table for a week, or I will glue something and think it’s done, and then pull it apart and start again until I get it to my liking,” Heather said of her creative process.
Her win at the Ag Fair came as a result of friendly feedback and some thoughtful revision. “I had a lighthouse done and was going to enter it in the fair. I had it all wrapped up in bubble wrap, and pulled it out to show one of my bosses. She made some helpful critiques, and I said, ‘You know what, you are right.’ Back to the drawing board I went, and it was totally worth it to rip it all apart, because I won a second-place ribbon at the Agricultural Fair in the professional category, which I was absolutely thrilled about!”
To create the final scenes, she glues the individual pieces onto vellum with E6000 glue, and showcases the simple arrangements in a shadow box. “If the glass or stones are flat enough, I use regular photo frames,” she said. Her scenes range in size from 3½ inches by 5 inches up to 8 inches by 10 inches.”
So where does she get her coveted raw materials? Like any good keeper of secrets, she’s not telling. “I would rather not disclose where I collect my glass. It is sort of like a fisherman giving out his ‘spot.’” But the lifelong sea glass collector assured us she sources all of her own pieces: “Nothing is bought or tumbled or shaped by me in any way, strictly by nature,” she said.
When she’s not collecting or assembling her art, Heather works as a paralegal at McCarron, Murphy & Vukota in Edgartown and as a hostess at the Wharf Pub. While she’s been collecting for years, the role of artist is still new to her. “I disliked art in elementary school, in Tisbury,” she said. “I just had no interest in it. I can’t even draw stick people!” But her creative streak has been exposed, and there’s no turning back. “It is taking me some getting used to all the compliments I am receiving on my work, but I absolutely love it, and am considering taking an art class or two (yes, me, the one who disliked art very much in school!)
“My friends joke with me and say, ‘Heather, where the heck did this come from? We had no idea you were talented!’”
Heather will be showing her work this holiday season at the Christmas in Edgartown Arts and Crafts festival on December 12 and at a trunk show at Driftwood Jewelry on Wednesday December 23. Contact Heather through her Facebook page, Heather’s Sea and Stone Designs, or email her at email@example.com for orders.