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Davenport couple makes art of wave-smoothed glass

Santa Cruz Sentinel
DAVENPORT — On winter days when the sea is wildly churning seaweed and fish along with stray debris, Krista Hammond and Tony Berkowitz are often found peering into the shallow waves looking for a glint of smoothed glass.

The hearty jewelry makers have, in just a few years, managed to carve a growing niche in the highly competitive market for genuine sea glass art. Santa Cruz Sea Glass is a business born organically, they say, noting that their first date, years ago, was collecting glass along the shore, and their first designs were simple works created for friends and family.

“When you see it on the sand and it’s wet and beautiful all by itself — we’re trying to capture that,” Hammond says.

Hammond’s wedding ring, created by Santa Cruz silversmith Robert Wunce, includes a rare, red sea glass piece found on the shores of the Monterey Bay. Hammond guesses it could’ve once been an antique button or a Tiffany lamp shade. Each piece has a story, she says.

Wunce, who has been working in silver for about 40 years, apprenticed the couple, mentoring them to cultivate their own designs.

“He changed our lives,” said Hammond, who used to be a personal fitness trainer. Berkowitz used to be a surfboard shaper and a carpenter.

“Tony was a natural,” said Wunce, who specializes in lapidary work and shows his pieces at 20 to 25 art fairs a year. He taught them how to solder and work with silver. “You can either work with the tools or you can’t.

Krista is the entrepreneur. I basically transferred almost 40 years of knowledge in to Tony and Krista. They’re on their own now. They just totally took off.”

These days, 90 percent of what they find together on their daily walks becomes jewelry. Berkowitz designs pieces from recycled U.S. silver. They sell at local art shows and sea glass festivals, donating 10 percent of their charms sales to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The business, launched in 2006, has grown about 30 percent annually and has not slowed down during the recession, according to Hammond. She credits strong business principles and using only real sea glass that they find. More than half of the sales in 2009 were to repeat customers.

“I wouldn’t say we’re getting rich by any means, but we’re very rich in getting to do what we do,” Hammond said.

Although recent publicity has drawn more people to the beach in Davenport — it was featured on the Travel Channel — it’s still an exceptional place to search for glass, Hammond says. On rare occasions, they find old remnants from the nearby James Lundberg glass studio built near the San Vicente Creek.

“They are able to make treasures out of what has been left behind,” said Mark DiOrio, campaign director of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, which is expected to open The Sanctuary Exploration Center, a 12,000-square-foot education center, in the summer of 2012. “Krista approached our foundation and said, This is the work I’m doing. I would like to make a donation. I work here and live here and play in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. I would like to give something back.’ This is one of those good stories.”

For Hammond and Berkowitz, both surfers, educating people about sea glass, the best ways to search for it and to leave no trace is an important mission to safeguard the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

People ask, “Don’t you get scared the sea glass is going to run out? What are you going to do when you run out of glass?”

“We’ll do something else,” Hammond said. “This has been a gift.”

This article was printed here.

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This entry was posted on December 19, 2010 by in Business, Feature Articles.

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