It is a rainy February afternoon on Alki Beach in West Seattle. I find myself carefully walking the rocky shore looking for treasures in the form of sea glass, shells, interesting rocks, driftwood, and whatever else catches my eye. There is an exceptionally low tide that has uncovered a much larger selection than usual, making it worthwhile to put up with the rain, wind, cold, and strange glances from the occasional jogger.
My harvest for the day is coming to an end, and I look around at the many tall clear plastic containers that I have filled with deliberate collections. As I attempt to fit the final lid on an already overstuffed container, a friendly couple and their dog approach to strike up a conversation. “What are you planning to do with all of that?” they ask me in a very curious tone. I explain to them that I am an artisan at the Pike Place Market and I make stained glass pyramids filled with local Northwest sand and shells. “What a fun hobby!” they reply with excitement and wonder, wish me luck, and run off to continue their afternoon.
I sat for a moment, finally succeeding in closing my last container, and thought to myself that perhaps I should have been more clear that I am a professional artisan, not just a hobbyist? I realized that it is probably a very common misconception that beachcombing and collecting are confined to hobby status, yet there are some of us out there who professionally engage in such activities. It is the rare path of the professional artisan collector of nature that I have chosen to illuminate through this post. To help illustrate what this looks like, I have had the pleasure of interviewing some local professional artisan collectors who use nature in their pieces at Seattle’s famous and historic Pike Place Market!
My first interview is with Angela Glass, owner and creator of Aina Kai Lani, handcrafted jewelry www.ainakailani.com. The name, Aina Kai Lani (eye-na kigh la-nee), means land, sea, and sky in the Hawaiian language. Angela has been an artisan at the Pike Place Market for the past nine years.
Angela has created a line of beautifully unique jewelry pieces, combining found objects with gemstones. Using bamboo as well as locally collected river rocks and sea glass, her work is handcrafted with impeccable skill and attention to detail.
Angela has always been a collector of nature and currently looks for “very round flat shapes or anything special like a rare color or pattern in the rock or beach glass.” She prefers to collect with friends because “it’s already more fun to collect with others and getting excited together over good finds.”
I asked Angela what appealed to her most about using nature to make art:
“Nature has been my favorite artist to collaborate with so far. I’ve always been inspired most when I’m out on a hike through the woods or along the beach. It’s great to get use out of my inspiration in my work.”
Thanks again Angela, you and nature collaborate beautifully together!
To hear more about Angela’s story and see more of her lovely work, please visit www.ainakailani.com.
My next interview is with Charles Saul, owner and creator of Charlie’s Flying Fish, Handcrafted Mobiles, Sea Stone Spiral Pendants, and Cascade Medallions www.charlessaul.com. Charles has been an artisan at the Pike Place Market for the past ten years.
Charles not only makes wonderfully handcrafted jewelry, he also creates perfectly balanced kinetic mobiles from aluminum that he hand cuts and grinds into one of a kind pieces. Whenever I pass by Charles’ stand, my eye is attracted to the softly moving fish swimming gently through the air. Equally stunning are the extensive collections of northwest sea stones, adorned with brightly colored intricate wire wrappings. Charles exhibits both a mastery of materials and levity of spirit that make his works truly unique.
I asked Charles if he has always been a collector and what he looks for when he collects. “I’ve always loved collecting stones and bits n pieces I find out wandering around or beach combing. It used to be whatever caught my eye. Now that I use it as part of my art I’m a bit more specific.”
“Driftwood, small flat beach stones, shells and beach glass are my main focus….but if it catches my eye, I still pick it up whatever it is 🙂 I love to have friends along for the “hunt”. They can be good for seeing cool stuff I miss or maybe wouldn’t think of using myself.”
I also asked Charles what he liked most about using nature to make art:
“Nature makes the coolest art…plants, trees, flowers, birds, fish, gemstones, us…..an endless list. To incorporate some small part of that in my work ties it to all the beauty surrounding us. It also provides a nice balance to the mechanical feel of my metal work.”
Thanks so much Charles for sharing your amazing collections with us!
To hear more about Charles’ story and to see more of his wonderful work, please visit www.charlessaul.com.
My last interview of professional artisan collectors of nature is with myself, Dionea Nadir, owner and creator of Emerald City Glass, home of the Pike Place Pyramids. I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary of becoming an artisan at the Pike Place Market and feel that this has been one of the best, and definitely most creative years of my life. I feel truly fortunate coming to work each day to a place that surrounds me with other like-minded individuals. The market has been a great place to continuously explore the limits of my creative spirit, and pursue them with wild abandon!
Much like Angela and Charlie, I have also been a lifelong collector of nature. My collecting has always been a social experience, starting during childhood with my mom and I going to the park or the beach. We would always return home, pockets filled with natural treasures we would find along the way. I still prefer collecting with friends as it is much more fun to share the excitement! Some of my favorite finds have been from other people seeing different things that provide fresh sources of inspiration.
I currently look for a variety of objects when I’m out collecting, both from land and sea. From the land, I seek interesting mosses, lichens, acorns, pinecones, wood, tiny shelf mushrooms, and miniature plants to put inside my Pacific Northwest Terrarium Pyramids.
From the sea, I look for shells, sea glass, agates, interesting rocks, driftwood, and sand to fill my Puget Sound Pyramids.
Each Puget Sound Pyramid is one of a kind, and the contents can be gently shaken so that you can create your favorite scene within. I hand cut pieces of colored glass for the backs of the pyramids, and when the sun shines through them they possess magical qualities of light refraction!
The pyramids are made by hand using the traditional Tiffany method of stained glass construction. I carefully choose the color of the pyramid to harmoniously coordinate with the contents. I also make some that are entirely clear for a minimalist aesthetic. Seeing them come together is really exciting and I often don’t fully know how they will look until they are finished! It is always a fun surprise and keeps me looking forward to every new pyramid.
I enjoy using nature in my art because it feels right to do so. We live in a very fast-paced world and it is nice to be able to take the time to slow down a bit every now and then. I find it very rewarding to walk along a beach or through a forest looking for beautiful things. I never know where inspiration will be found, but embracing the mystery of the journey is part of my creative process. For everyone out there who may not have the time to commune with nature but still want to, I make these pyramids for you!
To hear more about my story and to see more of my work, please visit Pike Place Pyramids on Facebook!