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Local Artist Turns Glass Trash Into Treasure
Writer & Photographer / Kari Chittenden

Hello, I’m Kari Chittenden and I make glass beads from my home studio in Plymouth, Indiana. My designs are made by melting glass over a torch, and then winding the molten glass into beads – a craft called lampworking. I find complete joy in exploring the unending design, technique and creative possibilities that bead-making presents. This hobby has been my passion since 2000. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a trip down our local river would lead to new adventures in my bead journey.

beadsThe beautiful Yellow River runs behind our home in Plymouth. I enjoy taking my grandkids to wade and play in the river. While doing so, I started to notice lots of broken glass in and along the river. Thank goodness we always wear water shoes! It became a regular practice for me to pack a trash bag, and all of us would pick up a little trash while we played. We joked that the prettier colors of broken glass we found were “treasure.” The kids started asking if we could go “treasure hunting” whenever they came for a visit.

So far, during our treasure hunts we’ve found 11 beautiful colors of glass and many old bottles. The abundance of soda bottles piqued my curiosity, so I began to research them online and at the Marshall County Historical Museum. I discovered that some of the bottles were from the late 1800s.

I found several old Coca-Cola bottles with the names of Indiana cities embossed on them, including my own town of Plymouth. It turns out that there was once a bottling plant right along the Yellow River that opened in 1885. The plant bottled all sorts of soda and mineral water, Coca-Cola, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

I read that there were bottling plants dotted all over the state around that time period – nearly a bottling plant in every city. Indiana was a big state for bottling because our large natural gas fields provided a cheap fuel source to melt the glass.

During one of my weekly phone calls to my father, I told him about all the cool and interesting glass that the grandkids and I were finding. He asked if I could melt it and turn it into beads. What an idea! My dad is a retired environmentalist, so of course he hoped I could recycle it. I read that it takes a million years to fully decompose glass in a landfill, so recycling is ideal.

I tried it. I went to my torch and held a broken shard with pliers in an attempt to melt the glass, and it melted just fine. I could then wind the molten glass into beads. I enjoy working with the found glass so much that I’ve added recycled glass bead jewelry to my product line at the Plymouth Farmers Market, where my husband and I have had a booth since 2006. People really liked that the glass was harvested right out of the river in our town, and the history lesson we share about the old bottling plant. Word has spread, and recently the recycled glass has dominated our sales.

You can find my beads year-round at King’s Jewelry in Plymouth, at the Vigo County Historical Museum in Terre Haute (just recycled Coke bottle jewelry there), and online via Etsy at etsy.com/shop/karibeads.

beadsFrom May through October, you can find me in person on Saturday mornings at the Plymouth Farmers Market. If you’ve never been to our market, you will be in for a treat. We average around 30 vendors each Saturday who sell locally grown produce, homemade baked goods, fresh honey, plants, farm-raised meats, handmade soaps, dog treats and more. At my booth you’ll find handmade glass fairy garden accessories and my recycled glass bead jewelry.

We invite the whole community to bring found glass to us at the Plymouth Farmers Market. I’m very low on purple glass, so if you find some, please bring that by. You could even bring glass that has special meaning to you. Maybe it was your grandmother’s Depression-era glass plate, glass you found while on a trip, beach glass from Hawaii, or the champagne bottle from a wedding. I can make you a beautiful keepsake from that special glass, or I can make loose beads that you can use to make your own creations.

I also offer lessons a few times per year, where you can learn how to make your own glass beads, at MoonTree Studios in Plymouth (across from Ancilla College). Check the MoonTree website for availability of my fun, three-hour introduction class at moontreestudios.org.

I love melting glass so much that this next season, I’m hoping to expand my small business a little more. Our family has applied for booth space at the Culver Farmers Market that will be run mostly by my daughter Chelsea. With the help from my grandkids and our whole community, we plan to continue to clean up the rivers and lakes in our area, and turn broken glass trash into treasure.

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