Kenneth Blaine is a beachcomber and mosaic artist from Southeast Puerto Rico. He’s been collecting beach treasures for as long as he can remember, dating back to his early childhood when his family took summer trips to Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Now, he collects sea glass, antique bottles, shells, and fossils.
Though he does enjoy beachcombing with friends and family, he mostly prefers to do it alone. He treasures the meditational and therapeutic benefits of combing the beach in isolation. “It is a temporary escape from any worries or stress throughout the day, a time for self-reflection, and a supply of the most beautiful positive energy whenever it is needed.”
Kenneth creates mosaic art now, but has had a creative mind since he was young. He is a classically trained pianist, and has dabbled in many different art forms. In 2015, he and his husband, Aaron, relocated from New Jersey to Puerto Rico for his business. Upon discovering the abundance of sea glass (and after accumulating too much), Kenneth was inspired to find ways to incorporate it into his art. That’s when he began creating mosaics within home decor serving trays. His family loved them, so he started taking requests from friends and neighbors. After realizing he had a talent for it, he began studying with one of Puerto Rico’s top mosaic artists, Brenda Montanile. During his time with Brenda, he developed new techniques and expanded his creative range. He has since continued to study through The Chicago Mosaic School and Mosaic Arts Online.
Kenneth works full time as a tax consultant for filmmakers looking for the best tax incentives in different states and territories, including his home island of Puerto Rico. “I find time to create most evenings, weekends and even early mornings before I put my tax cap on.”
When he’s not at work or creating art, Kenneth enjoys exercise, tennis, and mountain hiking. He also loves the beach, of course, and snorkeling. “I could get lost in the underworld for hours checking out coral, a colony of sand dollars, all sorts of fish, sea turtles, rays, live shells and other amazing sea life.”
Kenneth draws parallels between his background in music and his love of mosaics. His work is all about flow, lines, and movement—like establishing melodies, taking pauses between notes, and flowing between one note and the next. “When I create a mosaic, every single piece is hand selected to fit a space perfectly. It is not about quickly cramming as many pieces as you can onto a surface but rather carefully outlining direction, andamento (flowing motion in mosaic art) and size and shape of each piece of sea glass.” Kenneth thanks Aaron along with his friends and family for encouraging him throughout his artistic journey.
Kenneth says his creative process is constantly changing and evolving. Mosaic is a broad and diverse art form, so he doesn’t focus on a single style. Currently, he is experimenting with handmade molten glass rods cut down to micro-mosaic pieces for his work.
Kenneth finds inspiration from the natural beauty of the world, wherever he is at the moment. He says a day doesn’t go by where he is not appreciating the flora, fauna, and geological wonders that exist everywhere. “To me, sea glass is the perfect combination of human influence on our planet and the Earth’s reclamation.”
Kenneth is free-spirited, purposeful, and detail oriented. He says his favorite mosaic term is “andamento,” a term borrowed from music that means the harmony and visual flow in which tesserae and pieces are organized. “It is splitting lines and building “harmony” between the rows of pieces much like a musician would carefully select melodies and notes that sound beautiful when played together. Just as there are specific rules in writing multi-part harmonies in music, there are traditional rules in creating mosaic works. And of course rules only apply when you want them to.”
Kenneth describes his process in detail: “First, I spend most of my time carefully sketching my designs. Then, I prepare the substrate. A substrate is the term for which ‘tesserae’ or mosaic pieces will be adhered to. I then transfer my design to the prepared substrate. The weather climate of where my work will be situated and if it will be kept indoors or outside determines which glues or cements I will use to adhere my sea glass and mosaic pieces. Then, once dried, if the mosaic work justifies grouting, I will grout the piece which also requires careful selection of color, grout type and added polymers. A common misconception of mosaics is that all mosaics need to be grouted. They don’t and there are no rules. I have made many pieces where I neatly set cements or mortars onto my substrate, flatten it smooth or texture it and then set my tesserae into it, often using sea glass. The mosaic arts are extremely versatile. Many mosaic artists like myself take to foraging local materials, because virtually anything and everything can be used in creating mosaics. In addition to hoarding pounds of sea glass, I also spend time gathering shells, washed up coral fragments, and local stone suitable for cutting with a hammer and hardie. When cutting stone, I turn to traditional methods dating back to the Roman and Byzantine era which involves a mounted steel hardie, a sharpened blade nestled into a cut trunk of wood to absorb impact. A sharpened steel hammer is then used to cut stone and glass over the hardie.”
For those further interested in mosaics, Kenneth will be releasing an online course in 2021 with Mosaic Arts Online detailing the necessary steps to create sea glass mosaics.
If you’re visiting Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico, you’re in luck. The area is a resort community and top tourist destination. There are beautiful hotels, tennis courts, country clubs, beaches, hiking trails, kayaking, pools, rock climbing, rope swings, water slides, snorkeling, and many restaurants and clubs. It’s also nearby El Yunque National Rainforest, Luquillo Beach, the fishing village of Naguabo, and the Fajardo marina.
The most famous sea glass beach in the area is Playa Capiolio in San Juan, but Kenneth has secret beach destinations he takes close friends and family to when they visit. Kenneth says if you’re looking for red glass, pottery, marbles, coral, and shells, Puerto Rico is an excellent place to visit. You can find all types of shell species—conchs, queen helmets, reticulated cowrie helmets, deer cowries, limpets, urchins, sand dollars, sea biscuits, , brain coral, and many others.
Kenneth has one secret beach that he swears is magic and believes was a dumping ground in the early 1900s. He says there are massive piles of beautiful pebbles that are replaced with sea glass and pottery with each change of the tide. He says it’s not uncommon to return home with a couple pounds of frosted glass after only an hour of searching. He’s also found some of his most prized treasures at this cove. He recently found a silver 1846 United States Liberty Quarter washed up on the beach.
Kenneth recommends Wyndham Beach Hotel or Plaza Suites if you’re coming to stay. “Puerto Rico is a foodie’s dream and there’s no way to list all the wonderful options you have when visiting,” he says. Some recommendations to start: Chihuahua’s Mexican Cuisine, Pura Vida’s, La Crochette’s Steakhouse, Blue Hawaii, Cbar for Puerto Rican American fusion, and the Palmas Market or Cortadito Café for local coffee and dining. There are also three coastal restaurants, Ladis, La Pescaderia, and Chinchos Bar and Grille, all highly recommended by Kenneth. There’s also Café de la Plaza, a great Italian restaurant and Chez Daniel, a 5-star Condé Nast recognized French restaurant with excellent fresh lobster. He also recommends Hacienda Muñoz coffee plantation for coffee lovers, the Bacoa farm-to-table restaurant in Las Piedras, and lastly The Sand and the Sea, a mountaintop restaurant in Cayey with views of the ocean and the entire island.
“Living on an island that is heavily visited by tourists, I prefer not to disclose certain beaches out of respect for locals that depend on the sea glass trade,” says Kenneth. “But for my close family and friends, they are treated to the delights of finding sea glass where I go.”
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2021 issue.