By Ben Scott
In the northwest corner of the United States, just a few hours from the southern tip of Canada, lies Puget Sound, Washington, a beautiful coastal area filled with bustling cities, gorgeous natural landmarks, and diverse marine wildlife. Living in this area in the small Kitsap Peninsula are Vicki Gudgeirsson and Marylou Foreman, two sisters and beachcombing enthusiasts who create and sell sea glass jewelry.
While Vicki and Marylou grew up in the same area and are now nearly inseparable, they surprisingly did not spend their childhoods together. “We are sisters who truly appreciate having each other in our lives. It wasn’t always that way. We grew up in different households,” says Marylou.
Vicki was put up for adoption as a baby, and then their parents got married a year later and had three more children. Marylou is the youngest of those three. “Marylou and I found each other in our late twenties. We are full sisters; we have the same birthday and look so much alike we could pass as twins,” Vicki adds. “Marylou and I live with our husbands just a few houses apart and spend a lot of time together. We wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Even though they live in the Kitsap Peninsula, the sisters prefer to look for glass in Port Townsend, which is roughly a 45-minute drive from their home. Quite cold and rocky, the beaches of Port Townsend are rich with driftwood, shells, barnacles, clams, oysters, crabs, and agates. However, Vicki and Marylou prefer to collect sea glass. Their favorite location in the area to hunt for glass is a particular stretch of coast called Glass Beach, an area with a history of garbage-dumping, now overflowing with beautiful sea glass.
While the beaches of Port Townsend are perfect for beachcombing enthusiasts, Vicki and Marylou also note that the area has many other attractions: boating, hiking, fishing, water sports, and skiing during the wintertime. After a long day of hunting for sea glass, Vicki and Marylou recommend the small restaurant in the Belmont hotel, where beachcombers can relax and watch the ferryboats pass.
Speaking of ferryboats, Port Townsend is only a short ferry ride away from Seattle, where the number of possible activities skyrockets. If you head to Seattle, Vicki and Marylou agree that the Pike Place Fish Market, Ivar’s, and the Big Wheel should not be missed.
Vicki and Marylou have been collecting sea glass for around six years. About eight years ago, these newly-retired dental workers wanted to do something together, so they started making beaded jewelry. Originally working solely with antique silverware, they were inspired to integrate sea glass into their designs in 2012 after a chance meeting with Polly Schulze, the owner of Village Sea Glass in Capitola, California. She told the sisters that sea glass would work perfectly with their silver bracelets.
Though they now primarily sell sea glass jewelry, Vicki and Marylou only need to visit the beaches of Puget Sound—rich with sea glass—three or four times a year to stock up. There, they love to find heart-shaped pieces, marbles, and rare-colored glass like red, cobalt, and turquoise. Their experience with beachcombing has been mostly positive, but they recall a sea glass hunting trip that was almost disastrous:
“One day when we were done for the day and heading back to the car, we realized when we came to a place where there had been a landslide during a previous storm that the tide had come in and blocked our way back to the car,” says Vicki. They knew they couldn’t climb over the downed tree and dirt, and they were stuck in between a very tall sheer cliff and the water and it was starting to get dark.
“Being the prepared, outdoorsy girls we are, we sat down on a log and ate every bit of food we had in our backpacks. Then we started to worry,” she continues.
The tide had turned and was heading out, but not nearly fast enough. “We had our phones and contemplated calling the Coast Guard, but really didn’t want to do that (plus, as we found out later that would have cost us about $3,000),” Vicki says.
Finally, they decided they had no choice but to climb up the side of the cliff and over the slide area. The mountain of dirt and tree roots they had to climb over wasn’t stable and had large holes in it, and if they had fallen in they wouldn’t have been able to get out.
"We finally found a spot on the other side of the mess that we could slide back down on our butts to the beach," Vicki explains. "Only problem was, when I slid down first, I took out all the limbs to hang on to and a lot of dirt, too. So, when Marylou slid down, she had nothing to hang onto, so she came down quite a bit faster. But we made it! Very scary!”
With the best pieces from their usually-safe hunts, the sisters make a variety of jewelry. The most popular are their antique spoon bracelets, made from spoons from as far back as the late 19th century, which they sell at Village Sea Glass in Capitola and to family and friends. They also make regular donations of their jewelry to fundraisers for local charities.
Photos courtesy of Vicki Gudgeirsson, Marylou Foreman, and Alicia Cockrum.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.