Turning Trash into Treasure

Mary Willian McKey will be selling her jewelry at Winnetka Artisan's Fair from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 12.

One person’s trash could be another person’s treasure and for Mary Willian McKey, who designs jewelry with beach glass, this is certainly true. 

“For me, every walk on the beach is a treasure hunt,” McKey said. 

The Winnetka resident lives a few blocks away from Lake Michigan and loved collecting beach glass on her walks. Beach glass or sea glass begins as a bottle or other glass object but becomes smooth and glossy over time, McKey said. 

Five years ago, she decided to take up metalsmithing so she could turn some of the beach glass into jewelry. 

“Each piece tells a story,” she said. “Thicker pieces or ones with irregularities are usually the oldest. The colors indicate the origin of the bottle: a light blue or green piece may have been a Coca Cola bottle. A cobalt blue piece might have been a bottle of Milk of Magnesia or Noxzema.” 

Purple beach glass fascinates McKey the most. 

“Most of the purple pieces you find on our beaches actually come from clear bottles made between 1880 and 1914, when magnesium was used to clarify the glass,” McKey said. 

The magnesium in the glass reacts with sunlight and gradually turns the glass to a purple hue, the more exposure to sun, the darker the purple, McKey explained. 

“So when you find a piece of purple seaglass, you can be fairly sure that it is about 100 years old,” she said. 

The mother of two says she loves these little gifts from nature for their endless array of rich colors, patterns, textures, shapes and sizes. 

At Winnetka Artisan’s Fair, McKey will be selling necklaces, earrings, bracelets and more made from beach glass. 

For more on McKey’s work, visit: www.FreeRangeGuppies.com

More than 70 artisans, crafters and fair-trade vendors will be offering a variety of unique items such as jewelry, dolls, photos, knit wear, tasty preserves and more from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday at Winnetka Community House.  

Hosted by the Rotary Clubs of Winnetka-Northfield and Wilmette Harbor, the fair’s net proceeds will benefit Rotary International’s End Polio Now Initiative and the Winnetka-Northfield Charitable Foundation’s Community Grant Awards. 

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