Embracing Imperfection

By Jennifer DePlatchett

strange beachcombing finds

I’ve been combing the shores of Lake Erie for the past 22 years. When I first started, my mission was always to find frosty beach glass to fill my pockets. I do not know when my draw to rusted metal began, but when it did, I found myself soon filling my backpack with pieces to bring home—weathered, tarnished, and always filled with sand. At times, I would get looks of passersby wondering why I would possibly want to carry back such useless weight.

beachcomber on lake erie

But what I saw was much different from what they saw. What I saw was a past, present, and future, something that still had purpose. Items such as old car parts, doorknobs, bed springs, and more were not junkyard material but rather items that captured my interest. Each item I picked up, I wondered what stories it echoed. Did the bed springs provide comfort to someone smiling at the treasures they had discovered that day or dreaming of their next beach adventure? Was the car a transport to countless new places to explore? Did a hand often eagerly reach for that doorknob racing to escape to the beach? Perhaps there are no interesting tales behind these items. But, I’d like to continue thinking they are not ordinary but that they are extraordinary. I often think of them as fossils, wondering what was behind their imprint. I wonder how long they had tumbled in the currents of Lake Erie before making their way to shore.

art made from great lakes beachcombing finds

I soon found that piecing together unrelated items or simply placing a candle within created character that was far more interesting than anything new or mass-produced. Shiny new objects do not tell a story the way that rust and patina can. Timeworn objects create an alluring appeal that can only be replicated by nature.

candle holders made from beach metal

Some say they could spend hours looking at the things I’ve collected over the years. What I call my “Oddity Jars” contain random finds creating an eclectic mix of curiosity: finds or discoveries placed collectively in bowls and jars as a collaboration of wonder. There are pottery pieces, ceramic insulators, fossils, rusty nails from shipwrecks, an old leather stitched shoe, and countless other discoveries. And I never pass up a beautifully frosted piece of beach glass to drop into my pocket, as that is where it all began.

great lakes beach artist

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2021 issue.

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