Each year, collectors comb Oregon's beaches and galleries for prized glass floats.

By Bonnie Henderson
December 04, 2006
Jon Jensen

There was something about the little pile of driftwood, high onthe beach, that just didn't look right to Tracey Eno, a Marylandervisiting the northern Oregon coast. "I poked a stick in, the debrisfell away, and here was this green and white glass ball," she says.It turned out to be the first of six glass floats she and herpartner would find on the beaches around Lincoln City during thearea's annual glass-float festival, FindersKeepers.

The idea for it all hatched in 1997 at the home of artist andpart-time Waldport, Oregon, resident Bryan Duncan. Bryan wassitting on his deck, pondering how he might mark the coming turn ofthe millennium with an art project―something serendipitousand beautiful. At that moment, as he tells it, his wife walked upand mused, "Nobody finds glass floats anymore." (Years ago thefloats used by Japanese fishermen to buoy their nets routinelyrolled onto Oregon and Washington beaches after storms. But withthe advent of plastic floats they became more rare.)

Suddenly, Bryan had an idea: to place 2,000 glass floats, no twoalike, on the beach in the year 2000 for anyone to find. Now in itseighth season, Finders Keepers stretches from mid-October toMemorial Day. Dozens of glassblowers produce enough floats to matchthe year―2,007 in 2007. Every day during the season,volunteers place choice floats in surprise locations on the beach(beyond the reach of the tide), in a nest of driftwood, behind arock, or out in the open.

They're round and they're glass, but any resemblance totraditional Japanese fishermen's floats ends there. Asian originalswere often created in muted shades of green and blue. In contrast,this year's artist-blown floats sparkle with color. They're smoothor textured, transparent or translucent, like small planets fromanother universe.

If you don't uncover glass floats on a beach walk, you can stilltake them home, though not for free. Many galleries along thiscoast, in Lincoln City and beyond, now sell one-of-a-kind floatspriced from about $20 to $100 or more. Some galleries are attachedto glass-blowing studios, such as Pyromania in Newport, where youcan watch craftsmen at work and even have a float blown to yourspecifications.

At Lincoln City's Jennifer L.Sears Glass Art Studio, or "the foundry," as locals call it,you can blow your own float with help from an expert. For $65, youcan step out of the spectators' gallery and into the hot shop, pulla mass of molten glass out of the furnace, and in 20 minutes createa glass float or paperweight with your own hands and breath.

As for Bryan Duncan, he still produces glass floats every year.Some are for sale in what he calls Oldtown Gallery. That's thefront half of his friend Bill Ternyila's beach house at the end ofMill Road in Waldport, about 40 miles south of Lincoln City. (Theneon sign says OPEN, but if you want to buy a float, you'll have towalk across the street to the Dock of the Bay marina and ask Billto unlock the gallery.) Bryan makes a few dozen floats for paradeawards during Waldport's Beachcomber Days in June. But he savesabout 20 favorites to drop into the surf or scatter on the beachnorth and south of Alsea Bay between Christmas and New Year's."It's my Prozac," says Bryan, who sometimes sticks around, hidden,to watch the delight on the faces of the finders-keepers. "There'salmost a bounce in their step," he says. "It makes me feel good,too."