When Mary McCarthy finds time out of her busy schedule to beachcomb, she looks at the tide chart and lets the full moon guide her. For over 20 years, she’s been collecting empty bottles, beach-found steering wheels, floor tiles, miniature children’s teacup set pieces, art glass, beads, and gemstones. Her favorite spots to sift through are coastal landfills, and she’ll take anyone with her who’s up for heading out at low tide.
Mary found a creative outlet during coronavirus lockdowns that turned into a business. Her thinking was that people who couldn’t get to the beach during the pandemic might enjoy discovering a beach find while burning a candle. So in the summer of 2020, she started working with candlemakers to pursue her vision. She used to say, “I don’t make things, I make friends who make things.” But when her candlemakers weren’t able to fill her orders anymore in December 2020, she started making the candles herself. “I thought it was temporary, but after my first batch I knew I was hooked.” She hides sea glass, sea marbles, sea pottery, or other beach finds inside each of the candles she sells through her shop.
Mary’s process includes shopping for scents, and then planning candles for upcoming subscription candles and seasons. Mary explains, “Candlemaking is a science and an art form because formulating color and scent is pretty precise.” She works with her daughter on the wax mixing and adds a beach find at the bottom of each container before pouring the candle. Her favorite part is artistically topping the candles. Inspired by candle artists who use intricate techniques to create beautiful art, Mary likes to keep changing it up and trying new things.
On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Mary kayaks to find most of her sea glass. “The Chesapeake Bay is known for beautiful finished sea glass,” Mary explains. “On the other side of the bay from me are the Miocene-era Calvert Cliffs with an incredible history of shark teeth and fossils found there.” She still hopes to discover a domino, chess piece, fishing float, and a UV stopper some day.
Mary is Executive Director of the non-profit organization The Beachcombing Center, a museum of beach finds from around the world. The When’s Low Tide studio is now located in the museum building in Tilghman Island, Maryland. Just 15 minutes away is St. Michaels, a town filled with history, charm, great dining, shops, and home to the Eastern Shore Sea Glass Festival. If you’re visiting the Beachcombing Center, Mary recommends staying at the Knapps Narrows Marina and Inn, Tilghman Island Inn, or Black Walnut Point Inn. And, there are tons of great restaurants such as Two if by Sea and Marker Five to enjoy.
Visit whenslowtide.com and follow @whenslowtide for more candles and other products celebrating ocean artists.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2021 issue.