Growing up right on Lake Erie, Jennifer Reed was beachcombing by the time she was four years old. Her mom and four siblings would walk down to the beach every in the summer and collect beach glass and other treasures. When she had her own kids, the tradition continued. She and her sister Terri would take her kids down to the beaches of Lake Erie, now collecting glass for jewelry making.
Jennifer grew up in a family of artists. Her mother was craft-oriented and her father was a self-taught carpenter. “I grew up working with my hands, and took every available art, craft and shop courses my public school offered,” says Jennifer. “I knew in the 11th grade I wanted to be a jeweler.” Jennifer followed her passion, getting an art degree at Columbus College of Art & Design and completing her BFA in metalsmithing at Edinboro University.
After college, Jennifer worked for a department store as a bench jeweler, then moved to Pittsburgh to be their regional jeweler. When she had children, she took a break from working outside the home. Jennifer’s first sea glass jewelry was a ring she made for her six-year-old son in 1996 with a piece of cobalt sea glass he had found. “The marriage of sterling silver and beach glass was magical to me,” she says.
Jennifer started making sea glass jewelry professionally, and as her business grew, her sister Terri joined her. “At one time I had 26 wholesale accounts across the country and in the Caribbean, but I couldn’t keep up with the supply of beach glass,” she says. “I now sell online at relishinc.com and in Erie at our store.”
Jennifer’s college roommate had created a website for her early on, and her online presence helped her connect with the late Joanne Schreiber, who organized the first sea glass festival in Rockport, Massachusetts in 2004. From there, her connections in the beachcombing community grew. Some of her favorite pieces, a kewpie doll head from a 1920’s dinner bell and a ¼-inch playing die appeared in Richard Lamotte’s Lure of Sea Glass book. Jennifer is now the organizer and promoter of her own festival, the Great Lakes Beach Glass and Ocean Arts Festival, held in Erie, Pennsylvania in May.
The history and the mystery of each piece of glass inspires Jennifer’s designs. “My body of work and my gallery encompass my values: quality and sincerity, plus a little bit of fun in there, too.”
Jennifer developed a technique to rivet beach glass to metals, with sterling silver or 14 kt gold. “It was a way to use a piece that I couldn’t bezel set,” she explains. “I think Relish is most known for those pieces.”
When Jennifer isn’t working on her bench, in the shop, or at shows, she spends as much time as she can racing sailboats, and fits in some beachcombing time when she can. She doesn’t usually beachcomb on nearby Presque Isle, the local state park of 11 beaches and 13 miles of trails and bike riding. “Our winters take quite a toll on the coastline, so the DCNR (department of natural resources) trucks in replenishment sand every spring, making washed ashore treasures more difficult to find,” she says. “Best bets are public access shoreline both east and west of the peninsula.”
If you are headed to Erie, don’t miss the Great Lakes Beach Glass and Ocean Arts Festival every other year in May. And, check out Discover Presque Isle, a three-day event held the third weekend in July every year, with live music, sand sculpture contests, bonfires, and more. The Tall Ships Festival visits Presque Isle Bay every three years. “There is so much to do in this area, it is difficult to list any one can’t-miss experience,” says Jennifer.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2019 issue.