Sea Glass collectors who turned their beach finds into jewelry and art came together at the Cayucos Sea Glass Festival on March 10-11. Cassandra Garibay | Mustang News

For hundreds of years, glass has made its way into the ocean and washed up again as sea glass — a treasure hunter’s dream, according to San Francisco street artist and sea glass enthusiast
Katie Carrin. 

“I just loved the idea of it, that a piece of garbage, like a bottle or dishware or glass item, got thrown into the ocean and Mother Nature turned it into something beautiful,” Carrin said.

Sea glass is glass that has been thrown into the oceans, broken down and naturally rounded into small, smooth pieces without sharp edges by the waves, currents and sand.  

Carrin was one of many artists who brought their sea glass jewelry and artwork to the eighth annual Cayucos Sea Glass Festival from March 10-11. The weekend kicked off with the second annual Mermaid Ball Friday, March 9.

The festival brought together collectors from all over the coast and sea glass from around the world to share and celebrate hand-crafted work with the Cayucos community.

Although each artist at the festival shared a passion for sea glass, each came about in a different way.

Carrin’s Artisan Sea Glass Jewelry

Carrin’s love of sea glass began at a young age. As she looked back, she fondly remembered walking with her grandfather on their beach camping trips. He would pick up garbage and recyclables and she would pick up sea glass to add to her growing collection.

Along with her fascination with sea glass, Carrin loved making her own jewelry from a young age. Eventually, she married the two passions.

“It was just a natural fit that they went into my jewelry designs because they felt like little gems,” Carrin said.

Carrin, like many sea glass artists, never stopped collecting. From trips to the coastline of northern England, which is one of Carrin’s favorite places to collect, to up and down the California Central coast. Carrin loves spending time collecting these treasures.

“You can hope and wish for things, but it is up to Mother Nature what you are going to find,” Carrin said.

Carrin has made and sold sea glass jewelry for more than 30 years. However, for the past 11 years, she has sold her jewelry on the streets of San Francisco. Since 1972, The San Francisco Art Commission has provided licenses for people who wish to sell their hand-crafted art on the San Francisco streets.

“I feel fortunate that I get to meet so many people from all over the world. Collecting sea glass, no matter where you’re from, people have fond memories from their childhood,” Carrin said. 

Carrin sells her jewelry three days a week, usually in Embarcadero Plaza. Her prices typically range from $45 to $100, depending on the size, shape and color of the sea glass.

Carrin sells her work at the Cayucos festival every year and plans to continue to do so in the future.

Monica Branstrom Studio

Monica Branstrom is another sea glass jewelry maker and returning artist to the festival. Branstrom is a mother of three whose youngest daughter is a freshman at Cal Poly.

Although Branstrom now calls the West Coast her home, she grew up collecting shells along the South Florida Coastline. However, she did not discover sea glass until a surfing trip to Baja California, Mexico.

“I’ve always been a beachcomber collector but my first run in with sea glass was in Baja  [California] and it was all uphill from there,” Branstrom said.

Branstrom said her fascination with sea glass comes not only with its beauty, but its aspects of “history and mystery.”

“‘What did this come from?’ There is always that question,” Branstrom said. “‘What was this a part of?’”

Over time, Branstrom began to formulate an analogy for sea glass, relating it to the journey of life.

“As we go through life, just as a piece of sea glass, we may start out really sharp and jagged with some areas of our life that aren’t necessarily attractive maybe,” Branstrom said. “And over time, bumping up against people or circumstances or trials in our life, those circumstances kind of smooth us and shape our character. We become more smooth, more soft and actually more beautiful.”

Branstrom said when making her jewelry, she envisions her customers, as people who understand that analogy or have personal and emotional connections to sea glass themselves.

To advance her craft, Branstrom picked up metalworking and uses recycled metals to incorporate into her jewelry designs.

She is now the founder and facilitator of a week-long workshop in Florence, Italy, called “Metalsmiths in Florence”by a Florentine master goldsmith who has more than 50 years of experience.

Similar to Carrin, Branstrom said she does not alter the sea glass she collects, but rather uses her metalwork to enhance the natural beauty of the glass.

Dr. Jack’s Sea Glass Art

Another “sea glass purist” and artist who attended the festival, Jack Sierad, found a different way to craft sea glass into art.

Although Sierad makes jewelry as well, his main focus is creating mosaics out of sea glass.

“I am probably the only person on the planet that has taken this type of art to this level,” retired University of California, Los Angeles professor and former business owner Sierad said.

Sierad began his unique creations when he retired to the beach at the age of 55. After writing a memoir about his time as a high-end electronics business owner, Sierad picked up new hobbies of sea glass collecting and art making.

“I’ve always been into art, but I’ve never done anything artistic in my life, so I gave it a shot,” Sierad said.

Sierad said his first two attempts at making art out of the sea glass were inspired by the view from his yard. Although Sierad knew he had room for improvement, he was pleased with his work and decided to try once more, this time replicating the artwork of C.S. Escher, a Dutch artist who focused on mathematical woodcuts and lithographs. 

“The real transition, I think, is knowing I could [replicate] the Escher, and once I learned I could do it, I knew I could do anything I wanted to do, and then I had freedom,” Sierad said.

Since then, Sierad has made more than 150 pieces that each have unique images and are typically two feet by three feet in size. According to Sierad, his pieces contain as many as 5,000 sea glass stones total and take roughly three weeks to create.

Sierad has created his artwork for the past ten years or so, diligently collecting sea glass every day.

His larger pieces range from $900 to $1,200. However, Sierad said, if someone truly connects with his work and cannot afford the piece, he will often lower the price for them. As Sierad said, he is more passionate about sharing his love for sea glass than the money he earns from it.

“The bottom line really is, I just love what I do now and I never thought I would be doing this in my life. You know, you never know where life takes you,” Sierad said.  

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