As soon as Amy Lauria gets home from work, she puts on her “play clothes,” calls her dog and heads to the beach.
She and Grace, a pit bull mix, walk for an hour each day, as she collects driftwood, stones, metal, beach glass and trash, anything she can find to make into art.
“I really am an accidental artist,” said Lauria, of Painesville. “I take things that are junk, and they end up very elegant and pretty.”
Thousands of Americans dabble in sea or beach glass art, said Capt. Cass Forrington, who founded the International Sea Glass Museum in California. (Beach glass is from a lake and tends to be clearer, since the pH balance in salt water gives sea glass a cloudier patina.)
There are 18 sea glass festivals each year in the United States. And there are glass artists at nearly every craft fair in Northeast Ohio, making wall art or jewelry from glass dumped in the water decades or even centuries ago.
Lauria, who sells much of her work on Instagram or through her website, is not a trained artist. She was a homemaker for 15 years with a finance degree she never used, until she got divorced. Then, for extra money to raise her son and daughter, she started refurbishing furniture and selling it on eBay.
“I always would see things as they could be, but not what they were,” Lauria said.
With an eBay store established, Lauria started playing with the glass she had found over the years and deposited in jars. It was way easier to transport than furniture.
In 2011, she started arranged glass in the shape of trees, on salvaged wood or old frames. Now, they’re her most popular items. She expects to sell hundreds of them – black and white, green and aqua — this fall, with costs ranging from $38 to $95.
She’s busier than she’s ever been, she says, and sometimes her “hobby/side hustle” makes more than her actual career.
She has made pictures of angels out of beach glass, tire swings with trash and wire, churches out of flat stones. When pieces are really popular, she has prints made to sell. But her work is all driven by demand.
Customers like the individuality of her pieces, the touchable texture. They like that they’re environmentally friendly. And most of all, they like the memento of the water.
“I hear this all the time, ‘The beach is my happy place,’” Lauria said. “Let’s take this feeling we get outdoors and throw it on the wall.”
So how does it all work? Lauria explains her craft.
Why do you collect glass?
I sit in an office all day. There are windows, and I can see Lake Erie. So when I get home, I’ve gotta get outside. I get exercise. Grace gets a walk. It’s emotionally good for you.
How hard do you search for it?
It finds me. If I don’t see it, it’s there for the next person. I certainly don’t rake.
Where do you get your glass?
Mentor Headlands, Fairport Harbor, the beaches up and down the east side, from Euclid to Painesville. I’m dying to wander out to the west side.
How do you come up with your ideas?
It’s based on what I find.
I found this wonky thing that is definitely going to be a nose. I’ve gotta figure out what to do with it.
What’s the best season for picking?
When we get a storm, it kicks up more glass. And in the winter time, it’s a little harder to find in the snow, but other than that…