St. Michaels entrepreneur Kim Hannon’s love of sea glass led her to create the Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival — now the largest event of its kind in the world
Written by Katie Riley
Portrait by Grant L. Gursky
Growing up near the beach in New Jersey, Kim Hannon never thought much of the shells she would regularly collect from the shores of the Atlantic.
“Most of what you find from the ocean is seashells and rocks. It wasn’t until I moved to the Chesapeake Bay area that I began to appreciate the truly unique things I could find on a shoreline,” says Hannon.
On her first visit to a beach along the bay, Hannon found an antique miniature bottle, a find she says sparked her 20-year love affair with coastal treasures, particularly sea glass.
Hannon’s love of sea glass led her to found the Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival, an event held annually in St. Michaels that is the largest of its kind in the world.
“As an artist myself, it’s always been important to promote other artists, and I thought that a festival would be a great way to do that.”
During its first year, in 2009, the festival had four artists and a small crowd of attendees, but more artists and events were added each year, such as educational lectures from sea-glass and beachcombing experts.
“It was surprising how many people would come each year — through rain, snow, anything. It’s a very specific kind of festival, so it’s really been exciting to watch it grow,” Hannon says.
Last year’s festival brought more than 9,000 attendees to the grounds of St. Michaels’ Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where the festival is now held the first weekend of every April. Artists from as far as Hawaii showcase their coastal art and celebrate through music, educational lectures, food, drink and art exhibits. Now in its ninth year, this year’s festival will feature more than 90 artisans, live music and coastal experts, like Dr. Beachcomb, Mary McCarthy and photographer Jay Fleming.
The festival showcases artists working in all media, like Sandra Webberking, a metal sculptor who fashions firepits from recycled propane tanks. Another returning artist, Larry Ringgold, exhibits and sells life-size animal sculptures made from driftwood. Painters, jewelry craftsman, woodworkers and sculptors exhibit and sell their work during both days of the festival.
“It’s amazing to see what someone can create with the coast as their inspiration,” says Hannon. “Every single piece of art at the festival is unique. That’s definitely the appeal for the crowds that show up to see what’s new each year.”
Hannon has spent most of her life surrounded by art, and it was a natural progression when she began painting and crafting at an early age.
“My grandmother was a painter in Cape May, and I had an affinity for art early on; art and the beach are my two great loves,” she says.
Not only does she organize and promote the festival each year, she sells coastal art year-round in her store in St. Michaels, Ophiuroidea, named for the starfish-like marine animals.
Ophiuroidea, or The O, as locals call it, sells authentic sea-glass jewelry, pottery, clothing and home décor made from coastal artisans. Last year, a second location opened, in Kent Narrows in Grasonville.
In addition to organizing each year’s festival and operating her stores, she serves as president of the North American Sea Glass Association, an organization dedicated to the education about and appreciation of genuine sea glass. Every year she attends sea-glass festivals around the region and enjoys connecting with hundreds of sea-glass lovers from around the world.
As founder of a renowned arts festival and owner of two coastal arts stores, Hannon never dreamed that a walk on the beach would lead her to where she is now. She doesn’t have much time for beachcombing these days, but her love of sea glass remains as ardent as ever.
“It’s hard to explain the appeal,” Hannon said. “I’m not sure if it’s the history behind each sea-glass find or the idea that something that was once thrown away is now worth saving. It’s an evolution of the most beautiful kind.”
The 9th Annual Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival will take place at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels on April 4-5. Featuring the work of more than 90 artisans from across the United States, the festival also includes lectures from sea-glass experts, such as Mary McCarthy and Dr. Beachcomb, and a keynote lecture from award-winning Chesapeake Bay photographer Jay Fleming. Live music by Pressing Strings, Jayme Digler, John Belser and other local musicians. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, including beer, wine and cocktails. Ticket price includes admission for both days and entrance to the historic Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. For more, visit SeaGlassFestival.com.