Kick off the holiday shopping season and relish in the return of the Great Lakes Beach Glass & Arts Festival in Erie, Pennsylvania.

A close-up shot of two hands holding about two dozen small pieces of beach glass.

From California and Florida to Nova Scotia, artists from around the country and beyond are bringing their magnificent works to Erie, Pennsylvania, for the 6th Great Lakes Beach Glass & Arts Festival, taking place Oct. 8 and 9 at the Bayfront Convention Center.

The event, which will host about 2,500 people per day, features the talents of 80 vendors, including jewelry makers, photographers, painters, ceramicists, glass blowers and more. In between browsing booths and discovering the passions of talented local and national artists, visitors also can enjoy live music, an engaging lecture series and wine tasting, as well as get a peek at the largest piece of beach glass found on Lake Erie weighing in at 275 pounds.

“I’ve already sold tickets in Washington state and Florida — people who are coming to be attendees, not just vendors,” says Jennifer Reed, who puts on the entire show by herself. “I’ve created such a unique and fun festival that the vibe is really good, and people are willing to travel to it and make a weekend getaway out of it.”

Reed also owns Relish, a storefront in Erie that offers custom-made beach glass jewelry and art. She equates the festival to throwing a bash for 5,000 people.

“I have my own booth there and invite my competition in from all over the country, and we have this huge party,” she says. “I’m so excited to provide this to the area because our gem is being on the water, and I think it’s the perfect spot for this type of festival. It’s a great way to showcase our area — the only port city in Pennsylvania — and celebrate this great resource we have in the Great Lakes.”

Reed was a founding member of the North American Sea Glass Association (NASGA), which hosts its own annual beach glass festival in different cities throughout the country each year. In 2009, the NASGA festival was held in Erie. The event was such a huge success that Reed decided to carry on the tradition and hosted the first Great Lakes Beach Glass & Arts Festival in Erie in 2013.

“NASGA still has their own show, but I wanted to keep one around the Great Lakes area,” she says, adding that the NASGA festival’s niche is beach glass and sea glass. “My show is more of an art festival with a beach glass hook.”

This year, Reed says she’s excited to partner with Maggie Knox Western, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping ensure the success of emerging women artists. At the show, 12 women will be displaying their works for the first time in a festival space.

“During the pandemic, a lot of women picked up a new artistic outlet, such as painting or sculpting,” Reed says, adding that in addition to offering the new artists a booth at the festival free of charge, the nonprofit also coaches the women on how to get their works into galleries, write an artist statement and more. “We are really excited to help these women get on their burgeoning art career path.”

As part of the lecture series, visitors can meet Captain Ky, who hosts the Bored Pirate YouTube channel and is recording his experiences sailing around the world in search of rare sea glass beaches and beach glass.

“The lecture series is super fun,” Reed says, highlighting Scott McKenzie, a professor of geology and excellent resource for identifying treasures people find on the beach. “He tells the story of one woman who found a fossil of a never-before-discovered starfish on Lake Erie. He’s a wealth of information.”

For those who are looking to extend their stay and soak up the best that Lake Erie has to offer, Reed suggests visiting the Maritime Museum and Presque Isle State Park.

“It’s a 13-mile state park that is wonderful to bike ride. It’s flat and easy for the entire family to ride,” she says, adding that it’s also a fantastic destination for fishing and kayaking. “I’m a walker, so I like to walk along the multipurpose trail along the peninsula as well.”

When it comes to Reed’s love for Lake Erie, she says she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“I’m a boater. When my husband and I got engaged, I wanted an engagement boat, so I am a water baby,” she says. “If we ever decide to go somewhere for a month or two in the winter, I will always return to the Great Lakes area. I love the changing of the seasons. The world is a crazy place right now geographically, and I feel really lucky to be on the world’s largest supply of fresh water.”

Event Details:
Date: Oct. 8, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Oct. 9 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Place: Bayfront Convention Center, 1 Sassafras Pier, Erie, Pennsylvania
Price: $7/general admission; $15/VIP early bird ticket (sold to the first 200 ticket purchases and allows early admittance at 9 a.m. on Oct. 8.

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